PETER PAN'S real name was Sheffield Schoeffler. I met him my first week at the Belmont Institute. The year was 1965. I remember that on the drive to the institute, my mother leaned over the seatback in her cat-eye sunglasses. “You’ll get better at this place. They’re going to make you like everybody else.” She reached out to touch my hand, and I thought about that movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’d never wanted to be like everybody else.
My father said, “This is it.” I nearly said, Let’s turn around. I don’t want to do this, but everyone, especially my mother, thought that the Belmont Institute was a good idea.
I wasn’t optimistic. The institute, with its spiked gate, winding black drive and stone fortress, replete with towers and a parapet, looked like something out of a Vincent Price horror movie. I remember that the day was gray, the rain falling in spurts, the leaves on the pin oaks the color of marigolds and rust. Father pulled our car beneath the building’s awning, and before he cut the engine, Dr. Belmont emerged between two iron doors. He was a short man, wearing wire spectacles that matched his thick silvery hair. He wore an oxford dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up, and a navy-blue tie. His slacks and shoes were brown.
He shook my parents’ hands, telling them that they’d made a wise decision. “Gloria will get the best care here.” He patted my father’s back. “Our success rate is unmatched.” Then, Dr. Belmont came toward me, his beady eyes magnified within the silver frames. He put his hand under my chin, raising my face to meet his. I wore a pink baseball cap, a gift from my neighbor Gwen Babineaux. He pulled it off my head. “She won’t be needing this here.” He handed it to my mother.
Then, he clapped his hands together. “Everything’s in order. We’ve got your papers, and you have the information packet. Correct?”
My mother said, “Can we see her room?”
“No. Unfortunately not.” He shook his head. “We don’t allow family into the facility. It’s part of the recovery process. That’s covered in the brochure and the contract you signed.”
My mother nodded. Then, she started to cry, dabbing her eyes with her white gloved hands. Dr. Belmont pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket. “We’ll take good care of her.”
I pushed at the iron door. I was ready to go, get it over with already.
“Gloria,” my dad called, but I kept pushing. This was what everyone wanted. This was what I’d agreed to. So be it. Dr. Belmont came up behind me. “All right, then. We’re eager to get started.” We passed through the door, and the world I knew was gone.