Susanna’s one-and-a-half-year stay at McLean is nearly up, and she is nearly twenty years old. It is time for her to plan her future, including what she’ll do to support herself. She has held some odd jobs in her life, but has not been particularly successful in any of them. One of Susanna’s social workers at the hospital asks her what she plans to do when she gets out, and Susanna answers that she wants to be a writer. Her social worker tells her that writing is a “hobby,” and she must come up with a practical way to earn a living. The social worker suggests Susanna find work as a dental technician, as the training period only lasts one year and the responsibilities are manageable. Susanna argues that she hates the dentist, but the social worker urges her to be realistic and find some “nice clean work.”
As Susanna prepares to leave the “womb” of the hospital, she is suddenly forced to reckon with the future she thought she might never be able to have. Susanna has become accustomed to life in the hospital, and a part of her is reluctant to return to the normal rhythms and patterns of life outside of the institution. Susanna does not want to be told what to do anymore, and wants to be truly free to explore her passions, but the manipulation and control of the staff at McLean seems at this moment as if it will extend beyond the hospital walls and control Susanna’s choices as she prepares to reenter the world.
After the session with the social worker, Susanna finds Valerie and complains about how ridiculous it is that the social worker wants her to find a job as a dental technician. Valerie, however, does not seem to understand either, and tells Susanna—just as the social worker did—that dentistry is “nice clean work.” Luckily, Susanna writes, she got a marriage proposal, and was immediately released from McLean. “In 1968,” she says, “everybody could understand a marriage proposal.
Susanna seeks advice from Valerie, who has long been a beacon of stability and empathy in a chaotic and apathetic environment. Susanna is a little discouraged to find that Valerie agrees with the social worker, but she is rescued from having to pursue a career she’s uninterested in when she unexpectedly receives a proposal of marriage, which makes it appear as if she is ready for the real world and will be taken care of regardless of her own employment status.