Eight

Just recently, I went on a website where former patients of a children’s hospital got together.  I lived there way back in 1974.  Back then, there was little they could do for our disease but they did the best they could to show us how to handle day to day life.  I didn’t post on the site because I only remembered maybe 4 kids from my experience and I wasn’t that popular.  My parents dragged me out of there after five months for seemingly no reason except I was gaining weight due to Prednisone, and had been spanked for something or another.

There were good memories and bad there.  We went on many activities for fun and the counselors tried to make it feel like home since it wasn’t a correctional place or a loony bin– like I got put into later.  I remember being old enough to house with older girls but wanting to stay with the little kids because the older girls seemed bitchy.  I was right on the line age wise.  I found two other girls in my unit who were also older that wanted to stay on the little kids unit.  One was nine and another ten, then she turned eleven.   I was eight, almost nine, and the older girls were up to twelve and I didn’t want to stay there.

We three girls had a room in “our” cottage together with maybe 20 other kids.  The other two girls would pick on me sometimes so I would hide up in the top of my closet to get away.  I’d also check myself into the infirmary a lot to get away.  Sometimes the two other girls would get along with me then suddenly turn.  I remember hanging out with other kids but the faces have faded away.  We’d sneak off campus and get essentially citric acid or “sour salt” at a local grocery or buy lemons and suck on them.  I guess they were cheaper than candy.

We were not allowed to see our parents for the most part.  We could only write.  A stamp was a dime.  I celebrated my ninth birthday there and do not remember a party.  One time my Aunt came from her house a few blocks away and I saw her waiting for me in the main building sitting stiffly in her green skirt with her dyed black hair in it’s French twist. Her umbrella, which she used as a cane, was in front of her.  I was happy to see her.  She was my favorite Aunt then.  I would write my parents weekly and they came to see me once. I guess it must have been my birthday or before since it was still warm and we went to my favorite restaurant at the time: A & W, which was more like a Sonic then–you drove up and your food was delivered.

On the weekends, us kids were expected to worship–somewhere.  Since I was Jewish I was sent miles away to the opposite side of town from my parents to stay with a family all weekend.  All I remember was that they had a ranch house like my family and two sons but no girls to play with.  There was synagogue on Saturday but I was expected to return to “Sunday School” on Sunday since the family was Reform.  We had our Sabbath School on Saturday at my synagogue.  This was taking up all my weekend and I did not like being at the home of a strange couple when I could at least be back at the hospital hanging with the other kids and maybe sneaking out to the store or going to the Arcade or amusement park, as an activity on Saturday.  I complained.  They then sent me to a weird little Greek Orthodox church near the hospital with a bunch of other kids where there was incense and priests in brightly colored robes and “church bread”.  I never saw the couple and the two sons again.  I thought it was weird, anyway, since I could have gone home on the weekend to attend our synagogue and Sabbath School.  Was it really home, though?  Was it just an illusion of home?

Some time before the hospital, I remember my Mother coming in my room and sitting on my bed and talking about taking me to live at the hospital.  My symptoms had been worse, and I needed a shot virtually every day when I came home from school near the end of 3rd grade.  She didn’t talk about my symptoms, though.  She talked about HERSELF.  She started saying that it was hard on HER to have me at home and that SHE needed a break.  She said my behavior made it hard for HER to stand me and that the hospital was the break SHE needed.  Shit, I was EIGHT, not eighteen.  I then felt like a burden, defective.  I was trash and needed to be thrown away.

I was there five months and Summer turned to Fall and Fall to Winter.  I had attended school at another school for a semester.  I had grown a bit and gained weight.  My stomach stuck out like I was pregnant and my face was big.  My counselors on the unit announced I was going to leave–they did not think my disease was under enough control yet but my parents wanted me out.  My hair was shaggy because my “roommate” had cut it.

The last night I was there, 3 counselors sat at my bed in the dark and said they were sorry to see me go and that they did not like I was going back to my parents.  They said my parents did a bad job and that I had “improved” emotionally at the hospital, but there was nothing they could do.  I thought that was strange.  My parents were causing me to be abnormal and to be lonely? I sobbed in dread of “home”.   I didn’t want to leave the hospital either, which came back to that couple on the other side of town…were they looking to adopt?  Were the staff at the hospital talking to Human Services to get me out of my parents’ home?  Did they feel their hands were tied since my Father was a lawyer?  Did my parents know they were looking to declare them unfit and give me away to another family?  Did they really  want me back or were they worried what “the neighbors would say”?

The years went by at home and things got so bad by puberty I had withdrawn into a fantasy world.  Soon the hospital would be a memory.  It would close when I was in jr. high and I forgot about it when I went into that locked ward.  THAT hospital I really remember.

The reason this all came up was that I saw a movie called “Custody” where a very poor Mexican woman has to fight for months to get her kids back after a nosy neighbor tells on her when she disciplines her child.  This woman worked for nearly minimum wage and was a single mother.  Her husband was in prison.  She struggled to survive but loved her kids.  Her oldest was about EIGHT.  After a long fight and missing hours of work she could not afford her kids come home in time for Christmas.

My mother was the complete opposite.  She was educated, lived on the right side of town, and did not have to work.  I had problems but my family could afford to take me to doctors.  My mother was moody and flew into rages when I was young.  She vastly preferred my sister.  She was cold, yet overstrict and overprotective.  She never said she loved me until she was dying and it was too late.

The year I was eight was weird anyway.  First, my family did not celebrate my birthday that year for some reason.  My mother was in one of her angry states and we ended up having eggs that year for dinner.  I don’t even remember a gift.  That year my parents fought a lot and I ended up meeting and staying with my Aunt for the first time.  I was dropped off there for a few nights when they were fighting and I could not stay at Grandma’s in those days due to allergies.

That spring, I stole a knick knack and got my sister to do it, too.  We were sent back to the store to return them.  I was always sick.  Something was off.

I still wonder what if???  What if I had been adopted out to a loving family that accepted me?  Would I still have become a target?  My Mother always preferred my sister over me, but, there were a few acts of pure kindness she showed me after I grew up.  It was only after my Mother died that the family started to really push me away.  She also insisted I be a bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding.  Maybe she changed and started to accept me more.  I’ll never know.  She has been gone 22 years.

My remaining “family” stopped speaking to me over a decade ago.  I bet I would still be celebrating holidays at my new home if I had gotten adopted, and I would not have been locked up in the state hospital like a dog.

In 1974, after a brief stay at another hospital for MORE tests, I was home for Christmas.