The Order of Things: A Novel [NOOK Book]


An out of sorts librarian finds support and friendship in the most unlikely place. The Order of Things is a new novel from Lynne Hinton--the national bestselling author of Friendship Cake.
Andreas Jay Hackett is a university librarian known for her love of keeping things organized. But one summer, she finds herself falling away from a sense of well being, depressed, “out of order.” Her work doesn’t give her ...

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The Order of Things: A Novel

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An out of sorts librarian finds support and friendship in the most unlikely place. The Order of Things is a new novel from Lynne Hinton--the national bestselling author of Friendship Cake.
Andreas Jay Hackett is a university librarian known for her love of keeping things organized. But one summer, she finds herself falling away from a sense of well being, depressed, “out of order.” Her work doesn’t give her pleasure, her friends worry about her, and her own voice begins to frighten her. Therapy, pills and doctors visits don’t help, so Andreas checks herself into a psychiatric facility. There, she finds herself in a room next door to a prison inmate who has also been hospitalized. As she talks with her new neighbor, Andreas begins to come out of her despair--ultimately finding the healing she needs through a friendship that develops in the darkest of circumstances, and despite boundaries of race, gender, education, and age.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429994743
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/17/2009
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 670,827
  • File size: 180 KB

Meet the Author

Lynne Hinton

LYNNE HINTON is a writer and journalist. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Friendship Cake, Hope Springs and Forever Friends (The Hope Springs Trilogy), among other books, and writes a monthly column for The Charlotte Observer. She lives in New Mexico, where serves as pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in New Mexico.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Mental Illness

I lost and found the order of things the year the butteries didn't migrate down from the mountains. Low sky and hot, it was a parched summer, and the days dragged on like the smell of smoke after a fire. The weatherman on Channel 10 claimed that the absence of the butterflies had to do with the virus that killed the carpenter bees the year before; that it had spread to the larvae of other insects or settled upon the milkweed that the winged creatures ingested. But I think it was just the heat.

I think the heavy wet air hung like a thick curtain, stretching from the foothills to the sand hills, a barricade of weather, and would not open for swallowtails or skippers, monarchs or sulphurs, or the faint whisper of hope that might have saved me from my decline.

To a casual observer, butteries appear wispy and undetermined, but really they are just as hardworking as the hummingbird or the dirt dauber. They glide maybe instead of dart, like the dragony and mosquito, but they are not idle. They understand that they have places to go. They stretch out those long curved bit of wings as if they enjoy showing off for the wind and the eye of the beholder, but they always realize their destination. They flap and hover, sometimes going more than seventy miles a day.

I've seen streaks of magenta on a butterfly that would make my eyes burn, small smooth spots of black dancing upon yellow wings, and I have been dazed by the sleepy parachuting way they float. But I know better than to be fooled by a buttery; she's more than just a pretty face. She is engineered to be efficient and beautiful.

They burst forth from egg to caterpillar and eat as quickly and as much as they can digest, growing as large as is possible while shedding several layers of skin. Then they make themselves a hollow place to lie, a safe and protected chrysalis where they wait patiently for the spinning and changing of the caterpillars with which they began. And after a death of what is hard and tight and miserable, they fight their way through webs of silk and dust, a tangle of what they used to be, emerging as something different, something extraordinary, to set sail to the sight of endless sun.

The North American butterflies start their descent to Mexico from roosts high in bat caves and along ridges of green hills thousands of miles away. Gliding toward the cool mountains, they are met with predators, pesticides, and fatigue. But millions of butterflies manage a migration and millions make it back. They are brawny and plucky and they will not light in a place or season that is unwelcoming.

I knew then, when the earth turned brown and the air stifled any plea sure from the coming together and breaking apart of clouds, when the warmth rose and swelled like tides in the sea, that heat was holding back my resolve and forcing the detour of the bright and brilliant insects upon which, for me, summer is marked. Without much of a flight, I sank into the place I had fought to hide and felt no remorse or sadness at my loss, only a tinge of disappointment that I had missed the butterflies.

Once fallen, however, I decided in the days of reflection of that colorless season, that if it must be done, summer is a good arrangement of days in which to lose oneself. Not because the Earth with its revolutions and its increased daylight is as welcoming of it as it is in the opposite season, but rather because you're rarely noticed and thereby given a reprieve from cheerful well-meaning friends who call you or drop by just to make sure you've haven't bought a gun or hoarded medications. Most people assume you're on some extended vacation or appear absentminded only because you're inclined toward leisure. Everybody's out of touch anyway, so days can pass and no one even misses you; they just figure you're hiking at the state park or that you took a day trip to the coast.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, May to September, people seem to put their anxious caregiving on hold, their temptations to worry stored away for winter, while supposing that distant friends and family members are enjoying the long sun and the invitation to go outside. They couldn't possibly imagine that anybody they know could be strangled by darkness in such a fair time as this.

In the colder seasons it's different because, unlike in summer, everybody suffers some depression in the winter. It's just a common reaction to gray days and unfulfilled holidays. We're sympathetic with the mentally ill during that frozen time because everybody understands how sadness might win out in the hours of darkness.

This sense of despondency was not my first experience of falling away from myself. It has happened to me before, and since it does not always fall upon my spirit in one particular period of time, I cannot claim to have some seasonal disorder or light sensitivity. I guess one would say that I am simply prone to this kind of thing. Like Mama and her gout or Jane Mackay, one of the other librarians, and her cold sores, I just have a bent toward the shadows.

Usually, the sorrow is manageable. I move through it the way a person moves through a sprained joint or pulled muscle. I simply find another way to step or climb. It hurts, smarts really, but it's something that can be done. I just try and put the sadness aside, shelve it like a book no longer useful. I know it's there. It slows me down, but I just choose not to let it stop me. Most of the time that system works. A couple of times it has not.

I lost myself the first time when I was only four. I do not recall exactly what happened or how I coped. I only remember feeling very small, arms and legs pulled inside myself, a turtle in its shell, and being passed from one adult's lap to another, from one set of arms to a broad chest, slung across a hip and thrown across a back. It was as if I were an infant or a sack of wheat.

My mother says I stopped participating in life, arrested the progress, just after I learned to speak, something that already arrived very late in my development, and she always thought my fall into despondency was because I was afraid of the power of words. She told me once that when I was a child I had never seemed comfortable in conversation, that the nature of my play had always been quiet. She claimed that it concerned her at first, especially when I was silent for so long and then so completely after saying my first words, but that later she simply accepted that I would talk when it was necessary. She decided not to see it as a disability and not to pull me into meaningless speech just to assuage her fears.

I cannot say if she was right about the cause of the early fit of sadness, but I do remember thinking that hearing the sound of my own voice was frightening in a way that paralyzed me. Once I heard the sounds of words coming from my lips and recognized the power of being understood by others, it was as if I suddenly knew I was, because of the privilege of communication, somehow different from everything else in creation. The words I spoke, the ways I could name and organize my thoughts, suddenly set me apart from the trees and the river, insects and birds, the animals to which I had always felt connected. Once I heard them, felt the sounds being created from the combination of my tongue and brain, the power of such a thing saddened me.

I did not want to speak because somehow I believed it changed the very nature of who I was in the world. The thought of being separate simply weighted me down and bottled me up. I did not like, nor did I want to own, my voice.

I stayed that way, wrapped into myself, for months and I do not recall what finally loosened the words, stretched my limbs, or settled my spirit. I just know that somehow a conversation began with my mother, something about a neighbor, a man who died alone in a fishing boat far in the middle of the ocean. Since she had never stopped talking to me, just abstained from trying to pull me in the discussion, she brought the news of the man's death the way she reported all of the day's events to me. And somehow, I just recall being struck by how alone he was when he died. I asked a question—I don't even know what it was—and heard an answer. My mother didn't seem to be alarmed or relieved at hearing my voice, just continued in the conversation. And afterward, I did not need to be carried any longer.

There was another time of silence and sadness tangled together in my life that I remember. I became disordered and lost when I was sixteen and had been recently pregnant. I miscarried at seven months in the autumn season and I simply fell away from myself again. Unlike the first time, however, my adolescent descent didn't come quick and furious. My spirit was not suddenly lifeless like my distended womb. I did not suddenly feel frozen and still and small, broken by the disappointment of being separate. This loss felt more like a slow pulling of threads, like a tear in fabric, a loosening and widening along the sharp edges of my mind. Just like this time, this last time, at sixteen I hardly even noticed as it happened.

Once all the pieces had finally come undone and I was not able to carry on my usual responsibilities, I was taken out of school, kept at home. I didn't go to a doctor or a counselor. Mama didn't have the money or the insurance to cover such a thing. And I figure no one intervened, no one came to the house to try and pull me out or away from my loss, because they all just assumed it was because of the baby and its dying inside me, the sorrow of motherhood and adolescence knotting up. I think they expected that I'd soon snap out of it, so they just left me alone.

I misspent about a year that time; try as I may, I cannot recall one major event from any of those months as I lay in my bed coloring pictures in children's coloring books. Not Christmas or birthdays, mine or my mother's, or New Year's Eve. I do not remember wide shoulders or fleshy arms or being held or wrapped. That event of brokenness is managed in my memory only by a series of manila pages with pictures of oversized bears and frogs, elephants and fairies, a collage of big smiling fantasies lumbering from drawing to drawing.

My mother, not knowing what else to do for me, not able to lift me and walk with me slung about her hip, bought new coloring books from the dime store every week. "Here you go, babe," she'd say, placing them near my head on the pillow, and I filled them up and threw them away. I drew until the sticks of wax were pounded down to mere stubs of deep clear color, until every page was filled in, every picture painted.

Attentive as a nurse, Mama would come into the room, lean across my bed, and wipe off the shards of crayons and the tiny pieces of paper that clung to my blanket and the heel of my hand.

"I found a book with fairies and angels," she said one day, having spent her lunch hour in dime stores downtown, trying to find something, anything, that might lift me away from the sadness.

She bought box after box of crayons, book after book of nursery rhymes and storybook pictures, and she would hand them to me with a reassuring hand and a tense shaky smile. And this is the way it went month after month. It became a satisfactory life.

Then finally one day—a Thursday, I remember—I got out of the bed, went to my closet, and pulled out a yellow dress, put it on with my hiking boots, and walked to school. No one was more surprised than I since I had made no plans to recover. But something about the angle of light from the morning sun, the little wax flakes of yellow and green spread all around me, and my mother's steady chin, lifted me out of my despair and ushered me back into the world.

I was thirty-five-pounds lighter, fingertips stained with primary colors, and more than two semesters behind, but it didn't take long before I gained weight, returned to my natural pigmentation, caught up with the other students, and graduated on time. And as I returnect upon my teenage misfortune, I realize it unfolded and stretched away in a manner that is similar to my early childhood event, I still don't know exactly how it happened or how I overcame it.

This last time, the summer time, the time the butterflies stayed away, I was not distracted by pregnancy or the loss of a baby. I was not fretful about being a single mother or missing my senior year of school. I was not suddenly frightened by the sound of my voice or the strength of my words, I simply felt bits and pieces of myself fall aside, like the layers of clothes I shed with the coming of such a hot season.

The symptoms at age thirty-three were slow to show themselves. I, along with those who know me best, went weeks without realizing anything was wrong. At first, it was as simple as losing my sense of direction. I couldn't remember which way I was going. I couldn't place a location in my mind or get a clear picture of a park or building that everyone knew I had been to a million times. I would hear a name or be driving somewhere and suddenly feel as if I were in a town I had never been in, a life that was nothing like mine.

"You okay?" the security guard asked me once as I stood at the edge of the parking lot trying to recall the color and make of the car I was driving. I felt him watch me closely.

"Do you know who I am?" I asked, not quite sure what I expected to hear.

"You work at the library," he answered. "I don't think I've ever learned your name," he added.

I nodded. "And my car," I noted, "do you know my car?" He scratched his head and considered the question.

"Blue Toyota," he replied. "An old one, muffler is a bit too loud."

And then, without hesitation or judgment, he nodded in the direction where I had parked just eight hours earlier. "Third row, about halfway down." He paused. "It happens a lot," he said, smiling.

But I knew it didn't happen a lot with me. And I began to notice soon that after forgetting directions and the make of my car, I forgot places and events, tiny pieces of information I had long carried in my mind, I quit caring about things, like knowing where I was, being worried that I was lost, or even the basics like if I brushed my hair or matched my earrings. I didn't care if I talked too loud or answered a person's questions. I wasn't concerned if I ate dinner or if I watered the African violets that lined the windowsill in my upstairs bathroom. It didn't matter if I kept my appointments or changed the litter in the cat box. And then eventually, I didn't even care if I ever left my bed.

May unfolded into June. The seniors graduated. The freshmen matriculated. The sophomores and juniors went on international study tours. The professors went on their exotic summer vacations. The cafeteria and fitness center slowed. The campus fell quiet and I just wanted to sleep.

Beginning around the middle of the month of June, a few people, coworkers at the library, my mother, a neighbor—Mrs. Bishop, who watched me through her kitchen window—did begin to show signs that they suspected that something was not quite right with me. There were an increased number of phone calls from Mama and a few unexpected visits from my attentive neighbor. And yet, for weeks, even though I appeared disheveled and bore no signs of a physical ailment, I managed to convince them I had a virus or was tired from the heat, and for the beginning weeks of that long, hot summer, they mostly left me alone.

At work, however, when it soon got around that I was not taking vacation time or had discovered some new summer sport that kept me distracted, when it was common knowledge that I wasn't sick with cancer or some other horrible disease, a few of the other staff started to wonder where I was and what I was doing. Having always been a very dedicated and hardworking reference librarian on the university campus, one about whom the others had never complained, it took a while, but not that long, before my colleagues were tired of picking up my slack.

After a number of grievances, the director of library services at the school, my boss, Charles Hyde, Charlie, looked at me with a keen eye, watching me in the mornings when I got out of my car, at my desk when I answered the phones, when I walked into the stacks and returned the books that were left on the table. He didn't say anything for the longest time, but after Mary Simpson, the library manager, threatened to quit if he didn't do something about his reference librarian who was no longer doing her job, he waited until late in the afternoon on a Wednesday and called me to his office.

I had a bit of time to prepare myself because Jane told me that I had been reported. She walked over to my desk that morning after I had arrived a couple of hours late, fingers covering her mouth as she tried to hide her cold sore, and told me.

"Mary's turned you in," she said, her voice just above a whisper. She glanced around to see if anyone was watching. She dropped her hand away from her lips. "She said that you're taking advantage of the library." Jane paused, glancing around again. "She said you're taking advantage of Mr. Hyde. What are you going to do?" she asked.

I shrugged. "I guess I'll do what ever I have to do," I replied.

Jane nodded and slipped away, her face to the floor.

Charlie called me for a meeting later that afternoon. I walked in and he shut the door so nobody else would hear and pulled out the chair for me from behind the file cabinet. I slumped into it. As he headed around to his desk, I could feel his concern, the awkwardness he felt in having to reprimand me. I knew he didn't like doing what he was about to do.

Charlie didn't like conflict and he rarely interfered in the lives of his personnel. He said to every person he hired, "You don't need to tell me everything about what is going on in your life. If you need a day off or need to be at home, just work it out with the other librarians and do what you need to do. As long as the job gets done, I'm satisfied."

And that was the way of things in the library. We never bothered him about dentist visits or sick children. We found people to fill in when we needed to be away. We managed our personal lives with one another, without drama or fanfare, and for the most part, there were very few problems.

It all changed, however, during that summer. The butterflies were missing and the heat was oppressive and I had tampered with the system. Folks were getting tired of it. Jane and Mary were tired of covering for me. Charlie was forced to become involved. For the director of library ser vices at the university, this was not a pleasurable thing.

He sat at his desk, sliding his hands through his curly brown hair, a nervous habit I had only seen during bud get time and when he had to fire the janitor after finding him drunk and naked sitting in the history section of the library, reading the story of a village in France that was bombed during the war. The old man was weeping and singing verses of French songs, a bottle of red wine tucked under his arm. No one even knew the man who swept the floors and emptied our trash was Europe an and certainly no one expected him to show up to work during parents' week disrobed and homesick for France. It was sad for everyone and a little frightening for the freshman U.S. history class whose members had been released from class to go to the library and research their midterm papers. Once the incident was reported to the president of the university, there was no alternative, Charlie had to let him go.

He sat up in his chair and then back. He nodded his head as if he were conversing with someone else. He took a deep breath. I simply waited for him to begin.

"A librarian must have use of all her faculties," Charlie finally said, blowing out a long breath. And then he tapped his left and right forefingers on the edge of his desk as if he were playing the piano. He cleared his throat and glanced up at me with this kind of helpless expression, as if he needed some encouragement that he had done the right thing.

I searched his eyes and recognized the look of my mother's worry. It is, after all, memorized deep in my psyche. Once I saw that, I knew what had to be done. And so without a response, without saying a word of agreement or discontent, I leaned over and picked up the receiver on the phone by his right elbow and dialed the infirmary.

Charlie pulled away from the desk and turned his chair to face the window while I made the appointment, a small but genuine show of respect. It was as if I were changing clothes or handling my checkbook. He cast his eyes away and it was so small and so kind an action I found myself touched by his tenderness. I received a date and time to see the doctor and I simply hung up the phone and walked out of his office without Charlie saying anything else.

I noticed Mary Simpson standing near the corridor that led to Charlie's office. She smiled sympathetically and I returned the greeting. After all, I felt no ill will toward her for turning me in. With a daughter on drugs and a mother in the nursing home, she had problems of her own. She didn't need to be pulling my load in the library. She was right to report me and I knew it.

I returned to the reference section and started reshelving the encyclopedias. Charlie came out of his office, spoke briefly to his manager, probably explaining that the problem had been solved, and walked over to my section. He helped me put up the large atlas that somebody had taken from the map drawer. His arm rubbed slightly against mine as he took my end from me so that he could place it on the rack. And then Charlie turned to me and nodded as if I had done the right thing. After that, he walked over to the checkout counter and began loading books on the cart. Getting intervention was just that simple.

My appointment at the infirmary was the next day. With the academic school year ended and summer school between sessions, there were not that many patients needing to be seen. I went during my lunch period so that I wouldn't have to ask Mary or Jane to find someone to replace me at the reference desk. I knew I had reached my limit of grace with the library staff.

Once on my way, however, it took me much longer than I expected, about thirty minutes, to find the infirmary. Still struggling with the loss of my sense of direction, I could no longer find my way around the university campus. All the paths and signs and buildings seemed strangely unfamiliar and confusing. Upon leaving, I had been sure that the clinic was behind the library next to the cafeteria and that the administration building was down a paved road to the right. But I was wrong. The infirmary was beside the personnel office, next to the fitness center, near the center of campus. I had walked past it four times without recognizing it. Because of my loss of orientation within the campus, I was more than a few minutes late.

First, I signed in, and then I waited until the nurse, Mary Joe Driver, who reads everything we have in the library about sexual dysfunction, came to the door and called my name. There was no one else in the waiting room and I was glad not to have to share the space with students who might recognize me from the library.

Nurse Driver took me to a corner in the hall where she weighed me and took my temperature, my pulse, and the other vitals. Having received my assistance in the library and knowing me professionally, she asked me about work, how things were. And while she talked about the university and how everything had changed, the heat, and the incoming freshman class, I wondered whether indifference could alter the basic human functions that she was testing, if my blood pressure and my heart rate were slowed or quickened by the feelings of discontent, and I couldn't help but wonder if she read the books she checked out for herself or was trying to figure out the problems of somebody else.

I simply answered her questions and participated in the conversation politely. I did not comment about the new president or the new vaccinations required of all students. Inodded and smiled and tried to read the numbers on the thermometer and the scales and the blood pressure monitor. And then she led me to the little examining room to wait for the doctor.

In the small room, there were posters about sexually transmitted diseases and tooth decay and an old wallpaper border that drooped in the corners. The room was painted mauve, a kind of dingy purple. A small tinted window sat high in the wall and was slightly open so that I could hear the outside noises of lawn mowers and people walking past.

I sat and waited for the doctor and thought about all the hundreds of young college students who had sat on this same table learning the news of infections and pregnancies, the complications of eating disorders and binge drinking. Ithought of all of the ways the students figured out how to keep the prognosis from their parents and all of the ways a young person grieves. I thought of all the diseases, all the bad news, all the tests and questions and blood samples and wondered how many people, if any, had come in complaining of feeling lost from themselves.

Dr. Simmons, the college physician, a muddle of a man himself, finally came into the room. I had seen him a few times before. Once when I had strep throat and a couple of times because of migraines. I don't think he remembered me.

He asked me what was wrong as he looked over my chart, humming slightly, and then pulled off his reading glasses and seemed to be studying my face. I told him I thought I was depressed or sad or something that was making me not care about anything. I told him I slept too much and that I was having difficulty remembering directions. He stood over me, nodding and smiling as if he had guessed such a thing, and listened to my heart, took my blood pressure again. He checked my reflexes, shined a tiny bright light into my eyes and asked how long I had been feeling like this. I said a few weeks. And then he sat down on his stool.

He glanced back over my medical history and wanted to know if I had been under a lot of stress in recent months, if anyone I loved had died, or if I had suffered a major breakup. To all of these I responded negatively while he chewed on the end of his pen, squinting his eyes at me, and continued making a humming noise while he jotted a few notes on my chart. Then he was silent. I watched him as he diagnosed me, as he put together all of the information and came up with a reasonable explanation for my sorrow. Finally, he spoke up, clear and confident of his findings.

"Since there is no direct cause for these feelings of discontent," Dr. Simmons said, just after clearing his throat, "you must be experiencing some hormonal surge."

I must have looked surprised. I know I felt surprised since of all of the reasons I had given myself for feeling this way, the monthly discharge I had been experiencing quite regularly for almost twenty years had not been considered.

He closed my chart and continued. "And this surge, just like your cycles, will one day pass." He seemed quite self-assured, smiled at me, and since I have always been a person who honored the authority of physicians, I decided to believe him.

And then, feeling even more confident of his diagnosis, his ability to identify a problem, Dr. Simmons sized me up a few minutes more. I think my smile boosted his confidence. He nodded at me or himself, I'm not sure, and added that I was probably too easily affected by what goes on around me, that I needed a hobby or a friend and that maybe I should even think about a new profession since the library was known to hamper feelings of enthusiasm and spawn a certain amount of listlessness.

He gave me a few samples of sleeping pills, which seemed odd since that was the one activity in which I had not lost interest, patted me on the leg, and wrote a note of reference, sending me to a psychology professor who set up her practice in the storage room behind the campus police office. Nurse Mary Joe Driver called and made me an appointment and I went back to the library feeling no different than I had before I went. I even got lost again, ending up at the science building on the other side of the campus. I eventually made my way back to the library without anyone noticing that I had gone and returned. I had my first meeting with the psychologist the following week.

Dr. Lincoln was a perky young woman, a recent Ph.D. recipient, and I believe she truly thought she could help me. After taking a long history of my life, filling out three or four forms, she took me into her office and had me sit on a sofa. She studied exactly where on the couch I sat, how I crossed my legs, and seemed even to count the number of times I smiled.

After having me explain how I felt by using a number of assessment tools, including a scale from one to ten, with one being, "I want to kill myself," and ten being "I'm as happy as I've ever been," picking the closest to my feelings using a series of pictures of expressive faces, and having me read a book of cartoons while she measured my laughter, she decided that she could use me in her recently funded research project. Dr. Lincoln seemed pleased at the prospects of what I could offer.

During our second visit, she tried to teach me how to hold off what she defined as "the negative emotion" by having me breathe my fears into a bag and surround myself in some bright color that could shield me from the poison that she said gets into my psyche. It took a few tries before I got the hang of exhaling in a bag.

For my color, originally I chose pink, but after having thoughts of being covered in Pepto Bismol, I settled on purple. I surrounded myself in a purple bubble and tried to let the color protect me. I wanted the purple to work. I closed my eyes and saw everything in purple.

We met five times and she spent an extra half hour with me during each of our sessions because she said I was an interesting subject, a classic model of study for her research. Dr. Lincoln also informed me during one of our times together that she didn't like her colleagues in the psychology department, that most of them were just quacks, and that she was confident that she would one day be famous.

For weeks, throughout the entire month of July, I did all of her exercises. I closed my eyes and breathed in the bag and then held it tight and far away. I visualized happiness as a light all around me, lit up like the sky at dusk. I soaked in purple, breathed in purple, even dreamed in purple.

I tried her other suggestions. I wrote down affirmations of my self-worth and taped them on my mirrors. I started keeping a journal. I exhaled in long, even puffs. I followed her finger as she sat in front of me and waved it from side to side, trying to hypnotize me.

I waited for Dr. Lincoln's therapy to bring me back to myself, to pull the threads together, but somehow, the contents from my bag of pessimism leaked out the top or spilled through a weak corner or small crack and seeped back into my lungs. Somehow, the hypnosis didn't eliminate "the negative emotion" and the purple could not save me. And even though I hated to be deemed unsuitable for her research and dropped as her perfect role model, when after more than six weeks she finally asked, I could not confirm that I was any better.

After immediately deciding I no longer met her needs, Dr. Lincoln sent me to a therapist, a man off-campus but who was employed by the university, who specialized in group work. After an initial assessment, I was assigned to a group of other professionals who were diagnosed with various and assorted mental illnesses. The doctor seemed to think he could offer instruction to "bridge gaps in socialization," as he put it, where one-on-one talk therapy had failed.

In my appointed group, there was a post office employee with an anxiety disorder and a food ser vice worker struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a campus policeman who was just diagnosed with cancer and who had developed a problem with anger management, and a retired professor whose wife had just left him for the Methodist minister in town and who could not stop crying.

We gathered on Tuesday nights and we sat in a circle and signed our names to promises of confidentiality that we wouldn't talk about what happened or who was there. I signed the paper and even though my mother was terribly curious about a man who cried continuously over being left by his wife and had tried a number of ways to learn his name, I never broke the promise.

After our fourth meeting, however, I was invited to leave the group when I initiated the discussion that since we were all so open with our pitiful stories of trouble and loss, Dr. Marshall, the psychiatrist in charge, the one who specialized in group dynamics and mental illness, should at least let us read the comments he wrote about each one of us after every session.

The postal worker and the grieving professor didn't even realize he was taking notes on them. They had never paid attention to the therapist during our sessions. I, however, had noticed Dr. Marshall from the first meeting as the pages in his little notebook filled and turned while we talked about the dark recesses of our minds. I watched him as he smiled and nodded with each entry, always eager to pull us back to a line of thinking he seemed particularly interested in.

Although I could see that the doctor was angry at me for voicing my observation, I didn't apologize for what I did. I'm a librarian. I notice things. I'm curious. I'm just made that way.

Since I knew the therapist's work, I asked him if he was gathering material for his third, bestselling How to Get Out of What You've Gotten In psychology book. The question didn't set well with him or the other group members. The angry policeman stormed out and the chef with obsessive-compulsive disorder began counting spots on the ceiling. The doctor slammed his book closed and it was soon obvious that I was going to be asked to leave.

I was somewhat disappointed that I could not continue in the group process. I found that the revelations of these deeply troubled people actually gave me some focus. I was fascinated in a way with the ease in which some folks tell things to strangers that they swear they have never before said to anyone. The intimacy in the group, the way the clients listened to one another, the cop and the mailman becoming friends, touched me in some deep and profound way. I started to like my fellow group members. I cared about them and wondered how they were doing when we weren't together.

I even found myself feeling a little lighter when I went home after a meeting because there was some brief but clear comfort in knowing that crazy people can appear so normal. We get up, go to our jobs, come home, watch the evening news. We are likely never to be noticed. We look like everybody else. There's no mark on our foreheads or sticker on our cars.

It seems as if those of us fallen away from ourselves, broken or lost, can walk around posing like we never had a bad day, that we're just like everyone else. We cook a great dinner. We laugh at jokes. We pass along the mail or arrest a thief or teach a class or help someone with research and nobody suspects a thing. And yet the truth I learned from that group is that we're only a paint job, one or two light coats trying to cover each other, trying to hide what lies beneath. Everything can appear to be exactly fine until someone rubs it with a little pressure and suddenly the real color starts to bleed through.

After meeting those folks in my group, I shall never be surprised again at the people who confess to mental illness. We are the very ones that no one suspects, the very ones who seem to hold it all together and function perfectly in the world.

It was about two weeks after being dismissed from Dr. Marshall's group and about three days after hearing the news that the college professor whose wife had left him committed suicide, just nearing the end of summer, just before the new school year was to begin, that it became obvious that the cheap paint splashed over my heart was peeling. I was finding no relief from my problems, no sense of getting closer to myself. What I had tried was not doing the job.

"Are you coming to work?" Charlie called and asked on the Monday I decided to go to the hospital.

"I don't think so," I replied. I didn't know what time of day it was. I didn't know where I was supposed to be.

"Do you want me to send someone over?" he asked. I considered his offer.

"I don't think anything's worked," I said, although I wasn't sure why I did.

"I know," Charlie responded. "You've got good coverage," he added.

I felt confused.

"Insurance," he explained.

"Right," I said, and suddenly understood what I needed to do.

"You want me to take you?" Charlie asked.

"No, I'll figure that out," I responded, hung up the phone, and called the ambulance.

Talk therapy, one-on-one and in a group, sleeping pills, and a pretense that everything was just fine were not working. I knew I had to find help. The butterflies, gone and unaccounted for, the summer dragging on without reprieve, had taken its toll.

Excerpted from THE ORDER OF THINGS by Lynne Hinton

Copyright © 2009 by Lynne Hinton

Published in March 2009 by St. Martin's Press

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A winner

    University research librarian Andreas ¿Andy¿ Hackett suffers from deep depression that has begun to impact her work and her everyday living. Going to the job is increasingly difficult so a desperate Andy signs herself into Holly Pines psychiatric hospital for needed help.<BR/><BR/>However, the therapy depress her further as Andy feels the staff has no interest in helping the patients; in other words it is a job not a profession. Weeks later with the insurance about to end, Andy spends her last night at the chapel where she notices middle aged African-American Lathin due to the bandages on his arms. Later, back in her room, Lathin starts talking to her through the connecting vent. He talks about his family especially his daughter Mary who is an abuse victim who has become a psychosomatic mute. She talks about how shallow life feels and her only good times in a depressing moving from one place to another childhood were with her cousin on their grandmother¿s farm until her best friend relative died tragically while Andy failed to help her.<BR/><BR/>This engaging character study stars an intelligent but troubled woman whose past affirms the child is the adult theory of psychology. Andy is simply unhappy as she has been her entire life except for those brief moments on the farm; even those memories are devastated by the accidental death of her best friend. Readers will empathize with her and appreciate the catharsis dialogue between her and Lathin through the vent as everyone needs a friendly listener. Ironically fans will want a happy ending, but the climax is too simple in to short a time even if confession is good for the soul.<BR/><BR/>Harriet Klausner

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    Posted May 11, 2009

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