Healing the Syko

There was a company in Chicago that I couldn’t track down—Syko Furniture. Really. Sicko or psycho, spelled S-Y-K-O. They made furniture and supplies for mental institutions, or at least they did in the early 1960s. I think the company was ostensibly named after its founder, Elgon, or something like that, Syko. Mattresses that resisted cutting and could be easily cleaned, chairs that had straps, beds that had railings like cages. But also nurses’ smocks with floral patterns. 

All this Syko spilled out between my friend Consuela and me as we sat on a table or desk that was being discarded as surely as these complete sets of Journal of Mental Retardation, 1960–1962. The journal still exists, albeit under a name less offensive to us now. I can’t remember the new name, or when it happened. Consuela and I were horrified yet highly amused with ourselves.

Consuela was married at the time, even though she was only 25 and she and her husband were both grad students. She would eventually divorce him (and I don’t know if she got the cats or not.) The last straw, or one of them, was that he refused to learn how to drive even after they moved to suburbs and he took a job adjuncting or as a visiting professor an hour away. He was Bangladeshi, spoiled by his parents, Consuela said, and yet somehow never enough for them, I inferred. 

When Consuela was thinking about moving to Montana when her husband got a job there, she said she could stay in DC instead, or teach yoga and farm lavender outside of Missoula. It’s apparently big business there. I sent her a letter with lavender flowers from my garden and a doodle of warrior one on the envelope. You decide, was more or less the gist of the message, though whatever you decide, I trust you will do what you need in the end. 

We each tore some Syko advertisements from those journals, or I maybe I tore them all and shared some with Consuela. With my set, I made a series of artworks—black-out poetry, a mobile, a collage encaustic of a woman bleeding onto a mattress while a different hand wiped it clean with a sponge.

 

Richmond, VA