Rescuing Patty Hearst: Growing Up Sane in a Decade Gone Mad

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In 1975, 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 psychosis, spirited her two daughters to a cottage on the Virginia Peninsula, painted the windows black, and set up the house as a MASH unit for a secret war. A war that never came. The family -- captive to her mother's schizophrenia and a legal system that refused to intervene -- remained there for more than three years....
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Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories From a Decade Gone Mad

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Overview

In 1975, 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 psychosis, spirited her two daughters to a cottage on the Virginia Peninsula, painted the windows black, and set up the house as a MASH unit for a secret war. A war that never came. The family -- captive to her mother's schizophrenia and a legal system that refused to intervene -- remained there for more than three years.

"What sets this book apart," the Hartford Courant observed, "is Virginia's voice...brave, smart, tough." Reviewers nationwide have praised Holman's "riveting," "endearing," and "wryly humorous" story of a young girl caught in the whirlwind of madness -- a girl who chooses a brainwashed heiress as her role model. Holman's memoir vividly and brilliantly evokes the interior worlds of the sane and the insane and the delicate membrane in between. An essential exploration of identity, captivity, and love, Rescuing Patty Hearst will inspire readers' faith in the resilience of one family's spirit to survive and thrive even in the direst of circumstances.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Pat Conroy One of the best books about schizophrenia I have ever read. Virginia Holman has delivered a gift to the world of letters and to the literature of mental illness.

USA Today Electrifying, like lightning in a Mason jar.

People Holman...infuses her nightmarish past with compassion and insight....Bottom line: Captivating.

Glamour Holman's passionate book is a fierce testament to the power of love.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743222853
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 2/4/2003
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.84 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Virginia Holman

Virginia Holman is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a Roslynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship, and a North Carolina Arts Council grant. Rescuing Patty Hearst won the 2003 Outstanding Literature Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. She lives in Durham, North Carolina, where she is at work on a novel.

Good To Know

In our interview with Holman, she shared some fun facts with us:

"I have worked since I was 15 at a number of jobs, the most memorable ones are selling meat at the bottom of an escalator at Sears, selling Pendleton Suits to the fine ladies in the South, and working as a coin and currency teller in a bank vault."

"My writing is my job and now my career. I treat it as such. The most important things in my life are my family and loved ones. Writing comes second."

"I love to teach. I have taught for years in community settings, at hospices, womens' centers, and as the writer-in-residence at Duke University Medical Center, where I worked with long-term pediatric patients and their families, using writing as a tool for managing stress and to facilitate healing. In 2003-2004 I will be the Kenan Visiting Writer at UNC- Chapel Hill. One of the best things about writing is teaching and giving other folks ‘permission' to write their stories!"

"I unwind by painting watercolors, gardening, lifting weights, and collecting cowgirl memorabilia -- especially shirts. I'm also crazy about graphic novels -- Eric Drooker, Los Bros Hernandez, and Art Spiegelman being three of my favorites of the form."

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    1. Hometown:
      Durham, North Carolina
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 22, 1966
    2. Place of Birth:
      Richmond, Virginia
    1. Education:
      B.A., Virginia Commonwealth University, 1988; M.F.A., University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 1990

Read an Excerpt

Rescuing Patty Hearst

Growing Up Sane in a Decade Gone Mad
By Virginia Holman

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2003 Virginia Holman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7432-5549-6


Prologue

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 as Annie Oakley, the only other woman I'd seen pictured with a gun. In my eight-year-old mind, Patty was a female Robin Hood. She'd left her palace and come over to our side. Folks laughed when Patty's father was forced to spend his riches to feed the hungry in California and then whined he'd go broke in the process.

"Don't you believe everything you hear, Gingie," my father said as we watched the evening news. He put his big freckled arm around my neck and whispered in my ear, "That man can afford to buy the world a Coke."

My mother, on the other hand, identified with the loudmouthed Martha Mitchell, the attorney general's wife who seemed to have walked straight out of a gin-soaked Tennessee Williams play set in the drawing rooms of Watergate era Washington, D.C. Martha, with her blonde bouffant and silk dresses, was the visual opposite of my mother, whose long black hair and black eyes made her look something of a hybrid between Liz Taylor and Cher. When the topic turned to Watergate and the Mitchells, people waved Martha off as "that crazy Southerner." But my loudmouthed mother admired and defended Martha as much as I loved Tania and when it later came out that Martha wasn't hallucinating, that she had truly been drugged in a hotel room by the FBI, my mother felt vindicated right along with her. "I'm with you, Martha baby!" my mother exclaimed. "We know the truth, don't we? We'll show 'em." She'd lift her dewy glass of Gallo white and salute the television. "Amen, amen," she murmured and ticked her fingernails against her wineglass.

I wanted to be Citizen Tania; my mother wanted to be Martha Mitchell. It wouldn't be long before we both got our wish.

* * *

One year after Patty Hearst robbed Hibernia National Bank, my mother lost her mind and kidnapped my sister and me to our family cottage in Kechotan, Virginia.

Her reason was simple. My mother believed she had been inducted into a secret army. My mother, my baby sister, Emma, and I were foot soldiers entrusted with setting up a field hospital.

We lived in that cottage for over three years.

2000

Let me start with some history. Mother had just turned thirty-two when the first signs of schizophrenia sprouted in her brain. In terms of the disease, which usually strikes people in their late teens and early twenties, she was a late bloomer. In 1974 my mother had her first psychotic break - I was eight, my sister one, and my father thirty-six. Over five years with active psychosis would pass before she was seen by a psychiatrist early in 1981, hospitalized for four weeks, diagnosed, medicated, and sent home. But by then, her disease had progressed to a stage of severity that would limit effective treatment. Ultimately, this resulted in her permanent institutionalization.

"How could this happen?" This is the refrain I have heard from friends and head-shaking shrinks over the years.

"In an educated, middle-class family?"

"With children at stake?"

"Why didn't anybody do anything?"

"How is this possible?"

I was just busy trying to get through those years - these were questions I had never had time to ask. For many years I certainly had no answer other than a blank shrug.

Then, in my thirty-third year, I began asking my parents and sister and friends about the years my family was held hostage by my mother's delusions. Now when someone says, "Why couldn't somebody help you?" I can say in reply:

"Here's how. Sit back. Listen. It could happen to you."

1974

The spring before my mother's first psychotic episode we lived in a town house in a complex of town houses and apartments in Virginia Beach. My father worked in a bank in Portsmouth, Virginia; my mother was a stay-at-home wife and mom. My sister was one year old and in a half-body cast to correct her displaced hips, a congenital defect. One day I came home from third grade to find my mother in the den, bent over the sofa, frantically changing my sister's diaper through the large square cut in the gray eggy-smelling crotch of the cast. Mother had her red, polka-dot scarf knotted in her hair and was dressed in a wool dress I'd never seen before. It had blue stripes and little brass buttons embossed with anchors. Her white nylon gloves, reserved for church or weddings, were laid out beside her purse on the foyer table.

"There's a treasure hunt," she told me. "We need to go." I wondered if this was like the scavenger hunts I'd gone on at birthday parties.

"What do we have to get?"

"It's a different kind of treasure hunt. We need to follow the color red. It will lead us there." She put on her lipstick in the hall mirror by holding the golden tube against her bottom lip and turning her head from side to side. She grimaced to wipe a red smear from her teeth.

"Where?" I demanded. "To the party?"

My mother paused and looked confused. She set her hand on her purse and looked as if she might cry. My sister burbled from the floor. Mother suddenly twisted her head and shoulders straight - she had a lovely erect carriage, like Patricia Neal. "To the most magnificent place," she said mysteriously, and her black eyes darkened. A line of electric thrill ran up my legs and back. Mother hauled my sister up and tried to arrange her yellow ruffled skirt to cover the cast. I grabbed my mother's purse and gloves from the foyer, and we were off.

In the car we followed the color red. Until I started looking, I'd never noticed before how many things were red. Stop signs, other cars, billboards, fire hydrants. We drove and drove until we were in the neighboring city of Chesapeake. We drove until my excitement faded. My sister drained her bottle of formula, and she began to drool and chew idly on the bottle's brown nipple. My mother's scarf slipped from her head.

"When are we going to get there?"

"I don't know," she snapped.

"I want to go home. This is stupid." We were far down a long, newly paved road. Just then I saw a sign. WELCOME TO CHESAPEAKE POINTE. Red balloons were tethered to a red-lettered sign. "This is it!" I screamed. My mother paused at the white split-rail fence and squinted at the sign.

"It may be," she conceded. We drove in.

Chesapeake Pointe was a community of fancy town homes built on man-made hills. There were no real hills in Virginia Beach, and I imagined that this place was built on a hill of bottles and cans, like Mount Trashmore, the local go-cart track. When we pulled into the parking lot, we were greeted by two sales reps, a tiny blonde woman with blood-red nails and lips to match, and a man whose distinguishing feature was his missing arm. Vietnam, I guessed. They filled my mother's hands with flyers and floor plans and then ushered us inside the town homes.

The rooms echoed; the ceilings soared. The furniture, walls, and floors were white and shimmery. I hoisted my sister on my hip, or rather, against my hip - her cast held her legs apart in a rigid upside-down U and her feet were held apart by a spreader bar - and we found the kids' room.

All the furniture was pressed against the walls and the Sahara white carpet invited you to fall to the floor and crawl across it, which is exactly what Emma and I did. I had stopped looking for red when I discovered an enormous plastic treasure chest, filled with plastic toys in plastic wrappers and a roll of jewel-colored lollipops sealed in cellophane that endlessly unfurled. While the grown-ups were in the hallway I stuffed my pockets. My mother walked in the room and shot me a look. I stuck a lollipop in my mouth. Red, of course.

"We need to go now," she said.

"We just got here!" I whined. Then, low, "Did you find the treasure?"

She looked embarrassed or mad, or both. The man beside her kept talking. Her foot began to rock. She was wearing the most marvelous shoes - blue suede clogs with a three-inch cork wedge. They looked like little boats that could be docked in a marina. "Where do you currently reside? Will you be relocating to Chesapeake soon?" The sales rep fixed his one hand to my mother's shoulder and she was bending her knees and twisting her body in order to disengage him. I hoisted my sister off the floor and my mother bent down and seized my hand and literally pulled me out of the house. The sales rep followed us to the car and continued his pitch. She didn't say anything and refused to look at him.

She opened the door and he blocked her by leaning into the door frame with his one arm. "Look here, lady, don't waste my time. I'm here for people who are interested in buying. You got me, lady? I'm no tour guide." Then he looked at me in disgust - a look that would become increasingly familiar in the years to come. At that time I was thinking that look meant he was going to take back the lollipops, but he merely sneered as we got in the car and drove down the long hill and out the gates of Chesapeake Pointe.

Rush hour traffic had set in, and the roadways were otherworldly. A rippled haze of exhaust made the pavement float and buckle, and the taillights of the chain of cars flashed and jerked like a slow-moving Chinese dragon. My mother's face crumpled on itself and her hands trembled.

My sister, who was normally placid, began to cry. I unwrapped a yellow lollipop for her and she sucked on it between sobs until she fell asleep, her sticky hand jammed in her mouth, the lollipop tangled in her hair.

We turned onto a four-lane byway and the car in front of us stopped without warning. My mother slammed on the brakes and she began crying in earnest and so hard that she turned off at the next exit and pulled over to the side of the road. She didn't speak. I handed Mom a green lollipop. "I know the way," I lied. "Let me tell you." I was tired and scared and I wanted to go home and yet I was sure I could find our way back. Mom stared out the window, and I could tell she wasn't really looking at anything. Then I saw that she was looking at the empty reflection of herself in the glass. I took the lollipop back from my mother, unwrapped it, and handed it back to her.

"We go down this road on field trips. I'll tell you how to get there." She blankly turned the key and started driving. I began looking for signposts of my own. The pink dairy building - turn here, I said. Then the Esso billboard - soon things really did begin to look familiar. There was the Be-Lo, the road my dentist's office was on, there was our town home complex, there was our town house. My mother pulled into our parking space and slumped at the wheel, pale. I was full of myself, so pleased I had found our way home.

My father was waiting on the stoop, one hand jammed in the front pocket of his Levi's, the other fishing dead bugs out of the front porch light. I leapt out of the car. "We were lost on our treasure hunt, but I found our way home! All by myself!" He looked at me, puzzled, and walked over to where my mother now stood, tears streaming down her face. My father unstrapped my sleeping sweaty sister and handed her to me.

"What's wrong? What's happened?" he asked my mother. They leaned their heads together and he cupped the back of her head with his hand. "Oh, Nathan," I heard her wail. And she began to sob and sob.

Later, I remember her being in bed and my father telling me that she was sick. I said she was sad and confused and Dad said those things could sometimes make a person sick. My eight-year-old mind reasoned she was sad because the adventure had turned out so badly; because there had been no magnificent place or reward for following the color red.

Now I know she was sad and scared for a different reason - she was having a delusion, and she knew she was having a delusion. She was disintegrating into madness, but she wasn't so far gone, yet, that she wasn't fighting it. Her tears were proof of that.

2000

Do you remember the first time you heard the voices?" I ask my mother. We're sitting beside a small fishpond in the Catholic nursing home where she now lives. I've just now started asking questions of my parents. For many years my mother has been too fragile and my father has flatly refused to discuss the past, but things have changed. My mother is relatively stable and my father has agreed to try to answer my questions.

My mother's gaze is fixed on the orange flashes of the Japanese carp in the water. I've come on this visit just so I can ask this one question and the mere thought of asking it provokes a fear that raises the hair on my arms.

"The very first time you heard the voices, do you remember when it was?" I blurt it out, unable to bear the weight inside me any longer.

She turns her face to me and smiles, exposing the wide lazy gap between her front teeth. "Oh yes." I feel my breath halt. Mother rests her hand on my arm. Her fingers look just like mine, small, but not shapely. The backs of her hands are dry and wrinkled; her palms a tight pink that looks almost polished. "It was the most glorious day. We were living in Virginia Beach. I went to the cleaners to drop off your father's shirts."

"What did the voices say? Were they scary voices?"

"No. The voices told me to drop off your father's shirts at the cleaners. They said, 'You've got a good-looking husband. Take his shirts to the cleaners.'" I laugh; I can't help it. I've been terrified of asking this question, thinking it might trigger something horrible in my mother or me, and I expected the voices to say creepy things, unnerving things. Something as strangely ordinary as "Take his shirts to the cleaners" never crossed my mind.

Continues...


Excerpted from Rescuing Patty Hearst by Virginia Holman Copyright © 2003 by Virginia Holman . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2003

    The Real Thing

    This story is one of remarkable beauty and grace and even humour. Holman relates the story of her family's captivity to her mother's schizophrenia honestly and unlike any other book out there. This is not a book that glamorizes mental illness, but a book that shows just how horrific schizophrenia can be for the afflicted and their families. Yet, oddly enough, this book shows you the power of love, of a fighting spirit, and of a family who managed to survive and endure and even thrive despite the lack of help they received. As the son of a schizophrenic father, I never knew there were people out there who went through the same things. Bless Virginia Holman's heart for this book. It is a great story and one that will make a difference in many people's lives.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2003

    A realistic depiction

    This book is a loving, yet realistic, tribute the author's Schizophrenic mother. As a mental health professional who works with persons with Schizophrenia, I was impressed with the depth of the book. The writer was not afraid to share her story from every angle. A must read for anyone who has ever known or loved a person who has been touched by mental illness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2011

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    Posted January 3, 2009

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