Silence is the rule of survival.
|Chapter 2: A light in the Darkness
It was the first day of no school, and I already missed my friends. Sadness weighed heavily in my chest. I would not see them again until school started in the fall.
I woke up at six in the morning as I had done for as long as I could remember. I no longer needed the alarm, but Mama made sure every night that she set the clock. I made my bed, cleaned my room, and started to scrub the bathroom when mama woke up. I knew I had not woken her. I was good at being quiet as a mouse as I did my house work. She stood in the bathroom door with her arms crossed at her chest. It was not a good sign but not a terribly bad one yet. I did not notice the darker cloud of danger around her. She stood there for a few minutes, stared at me, then left the room. I did not know I held my breath until I let it out.
With Mama awake, I went for the vacuum. I had to go through the kitchen to a small closet. It was at the top of the stairs that led to the basement. There was not a door for the basement stairs. It scared me a little as I struggled to get the vacuum out of the closet. The basement was deep and dark with a cold cement floor and water stains around the base. The laundry room was down there. I never went to the basement because Mama said I was not smart enough to do the laundry. Mrs. Ross said I was smart, but she must not have told Mama. I wondered who did this before I came along; I knew not to ask. I rarely said anything to Mama; Daddy said it was best that way.
Mama scared me so bad I rolled the front of the vacuum right across my toes. I turned around and found her up close. She was so mad she started to spit as she yelled. Quickly I thought back to what I had done after I woke up that morning. I could not see a thing I might have done to upset her. She started to poke her finger into my chest and yelled some more. I’ll never know what she was so mad about that day. She hit me so hard that my foot slipped off the top stair.
I found myself in a cold dark place and thought I had woken up in the basement. It was so scary; I tried to get up, but I could not move. I suddenly noticed lights move around in the darkness, and I started to shiver and shake. One of the lights stopped in front of my face and covered my head. I felt gentle hands touch my hair and then my eyes. A great feeling of warmth seeped through my body and then the light went off and I was in darkness once more. I could hear loud voices and realized it was Daddy and Mama.
“What did you do to my baby girl Rosie?” Daddy was so angry; I had never heard him that angry before.
“Nothing, Joe. She slipped and fell down the stairs. You know how clumsy the child is.” Mama did not sound upset or sorry. “Keep your voice down Joe. The entire hospital does not need to know our business.”
Hospital? So that was where I was. I did not understand why I could not move or open my eyes. Yet I could hear Daddy and Mama loud and clear.
“I swear Rosie…”
“What Joe! What do you swear? Do not blame me for your daughter’s accidents. Her name fits her well.”
Mama said daughter as though it was a dirty word. Daddy did not answer. A few seconds later I heard more footsteps and a new voice as a woman started to talk.
“Are you Mister & Mrs. Monroe? Admissions would like to see you both. Apparently no one filled out the paper work when Jinx arrived; it has been almost four weeks now.”
Four weeks? I had been there for four weeks. I wondered how long four weeks were. I was too tired to figure that one out. Daddy and Mama must have left with the other lady because it got real quiet. Then I heard two voices inside the room. They were whispering, but I could hear them fairly well.
“What a horrible thing to do to a child Jean. Did you see her x-rays? Two old breaks on one arm. Three mended broken ribs. She has various fingers that show healed breaks. There are old bruises under the new ones on that child’s back and legs. Worst of all are the healed burns on her tiny chest. They looked like someone put cigarettes out on her. We know what monster did that to her, the poor mite.”
“Shush Hazel. Someone will hear you.”
“I do not care Jean. Someone needs to hear about this. I do not care if her daddy is the Chief of Police. Someone needs to protect that child.”
It felt as though it had been a long time that I slept. I could hear strange music as I lay there and struggled to open my eyes. This time I could feel my fingers and toes. I tried to move them a little. The music stopped abruptly. I felt fabric move against my hand as someone leaned over me.
“Jay-Jay, you awake? I saw your finger move.” Johnny leaned in closer. “I miss you Jay-Jay, and I think it is time to wake up.”
I smiled as I listened to Johnny talk. He said he had snuck into the hospital the first time. After that, the nurses let Johnny stay as long as my mother was not in the hospital. He said she never came around much, so he was safe. Slowly, I cracked open my eyes and looked at him.
Johnny smiled a giant smile when he saw the slits of my eyes. I smiled back at my best friend. I saw a harmonica in his hand and slightly moved my head at it because I could not speak. He looked down and grinned.
“I have been here every day Jay to play you a tune to find your way home. And now see, it worked.” Johnny’s face had turned a little red; I found that interesting. “I got to go get the nurse. She said to get her if you woke up. She did not believe you would wake up yet.”
Johnny left the room and returned a few seconds later with a nurse. She was a nice lady with long brown hair and brown eyes. Her smile mirrored in her eyes. She leaned over me and lifted my eye lid and shone a light in it. The she did it to the other eye. The light made me uncomfortable, but I could not complain. She did not say anything to me or Johnny until she reached the door of the room. I saw her name tag it read Hazel; I wondered if I knew a Hazel.
“Doctor Smith will be in shortly Johnny. You can stay until he tells you otherwise, so behave and do as you are told.” Hazel looked back at me as if she wanted to say something, but she did not.
Johnny grinned at me after Hazel left the room. He tapped his harmonica on his leg a few times and then sat down in a chair next to the bed.
“I’ll bet you are thirsty, huh Jay?” At my nod, Johnny jumped back up and grabbed a glass of ice beside the bed. “You can only have ice Jay. That is what Nurse Hazel said. She said that when you woke you would be thirsty but only to give you ice.” As he talked, he put a piece of ice into my mouth.
It was like heaven as the ice melted to run down the back of my throat. My throat was awfully sore and dry. It felt strange to have Johnny feed me ice, but wonderful to have my friend there. He hummed as he scooped another chip into my mouth. After a while, he put the glass back on the stand and went to sit in the chair again. Just when he opened his mouth to speak, Doctor Smith walked through the door.
“Well, hello there Johnny; it is nice to see you again. But I must warn you. Jinx’s parents will be here within the hour. So soon, young man, you will have to scamper along.”
Then Doctor Smith turned to me. “Hello Jinx, you look more bright eyed then I expected. Here, now let me look in your eyes and down your throat. You have been trying to wake up for weeks now, I am glad to see you finally made it.”
True to the Doctor's word; my Daddy and Mama walked into the room a while later. Johnny had left before they got there. After he left the nurse, Hazel, gave me a quick sponge bath and changed my gown for a lovely fresh one. That is what Hazel called it, lovely. She also combed and braided my hair and put a pretty red ribbon on the end of it.
“I’m sorry you lost your daddy.” I said to her. My eyes were probably as large as hers were when she turned around to look at me. “Your kitty is at the next house over from yours. They thought she was a stray and took her in.” My hand slammed over my mouth as I looked at her in horror.
Hazel did not say anything. She did not look upset, but she did look thoughtful. I kept my eyes on the necklace she wore so that I did not have to look at her. It was a star in a circle all shiny and silver. I thought that maybe one day I would have one like it. It was then that I started to cry. If Mama found out I opened my mouth, she would hurt me bad this time. Hazel rushed to my side and patted my hand. I cried harder.
“Hush child, it is okay. I will not tell your mama. Hush now, there’s a good girl.”
I hiccupped, and Hazel wiped my nose and dried my eyes. Then she adjusted my leg, so the cast rested easier. I felt where the stitches ran across my forehead. Doctor Smith said there were one hundred and forty eight but not to worry as the scar ran along the hair line and would never show. When Hazel finished, she sat down in the chair where Johnny had sat. She scooted it closer to my bed and held my hand. Hazel looked me in the eye and smiled, and then my parents walked in to the room.
Mama stayed by the door for a minute and gave me one of her “do not talk to me or else” looks. She glared at Hazel when she saw that Hazel held my hand. Hazel smiled tightly at her and rose from the chair. She walked slowly toward the door and Mama. I held my breath as I watched them. Hazel and Mama had a stare down until Mama lowered her eyes. Then Hazel turned back toward me and winked.
“I’ll leave you to visit with your daughter now Chief Monroe. Please stop at the nurses’ station when you are ready to leave, I’ll send someone in to sit with Jinx.”
Hazel left the room and Mama came in and sat in Johnnie’s chair. She did not look at me. She did not take my hand. She did not hug or kiss me. Yup, that was Mama alright. Daddy kissed the top of my head and grabbed my hand where it lay on the covers.
“Oh, baby.” He said. “You do not know how glad I am to see your beautiful green eyes open again. You had me so scared.”
Daddy talked a lot for a while; all I had to do was nod now and then. I lay and watched Mama as she gazed anywhere but at me. She was always quiet and meek when Daddy or some other adult was around. It was when we were alone that she changed. I hoped not to be alone with her for a long time. Maybe I could get the Doctor to keep me here. It felt so safe in the hospital.
“Well baby, we have to go now. I will be back tomorrow night after work. The Doctor says you will be ready to come home in a week or two.”
Daddy kissed me on the head again then took Mama by the arm to walk out. Still she did not look at me. She did not say good-by as they left. After they had left for home, I lay and thought for a long time. No one came in and bothered me except to look in the room as they walked past. I had finally come to accept some things in my young life. My Mama did not love me. She would never love me, and I would probably never know why. I knew now that there would never be anything I could do to make her love me. I cried that night. I cried all night long, and when I finished, I never cried for her love again. I had a birthday while I was in the hospital. I was no longer a six year old. I became a more grown up seven year old; I felt older, and for a little while, I felt lost.
The next two weeks were happy ones for me. I got along well with all the nurses on the floor. They would sneak me ice cream sometimes if they knew that mama would not come. She hardly ever did, but they were careful just in case. I had coloring books and stuffed animals. They would not go home with me, so I enjoyed them while I while I was there. Hazel came in a lot even when she was not working and she would read me stories until I fell asleep. I did not know what happiness was until then. What a strange place to find it. Johnny came a few more times to play his harmonica for me and play board games. He said he would find a way to see me even after I went home. I smiled at him, but I did not believe he would find a way.
The day came, and it was time to say good-by. I did not cry, although some of the nurses did. I saw one of the male nurses wipe his eyes. I promised I would never forget them, and I never did. Mama donated the toys to the hospital and threw the color books in the trash on the way out of the hospital. Daddy did not come back with her to pick me up. He said he would see me at home. So all too soon, it was just me and mama.
Doctor Smith had removed the cast from my leg a couple of days before I went home. That was how long I was in there, long enough to mend a broken bone, and as a bonus, school would start again in five days. To me, it was a great trade off. I got a summer of rest in the hospital and got out just in time to go back to school. Mama did not speak or look at me all the way home. The drive was about twenty minutes from the hospital as we lived out in the country.
In the late 1960’s Boulder Colorado was still a small town. With hippies on every corner, music in the park, it was a wonderful place to grow up in, a happy town. Sometimes, Daddy would take us to the park concerts. He would lay out a blanket on the damp grass, and we sat for hours listening to people play and sing. Mama never seemed happy at those times, but Daddy and I sure enjoyed it.
When we got home, mama jumped out of the car and left me to find my own way in to the house. That was okay by me, the less I was with her the better. As I limped in the front door, she set her just opened beer bottle down and told me to go to my room.
“Do not show your face out here, Jinx, until your father gets home. If I see you, I will not be responsible for what I will do. Do you understand me?
I nodded my head and went toward the stairs to my room. Before I reached the first step mama stopped me.
“No, your room is no longer up there missy. That is now the baby’s room. Your room is in the basement.” She looked at me without emotion, yet I could feel her happiness.
“Baby,” I asked in a whispered voice.
She smiled, “Yes baby! Your father wanted me to wait to tell you until he got home, but I felt it better you know now. Your room is downstairs. Your father was not happy about that, but he knows I will need a nursery. Of course, the baby cannot be down in that cold, dark basement. My son will have the best of everything, remember that Jinx.”
I turned away from mama as she looked at me with cold glee. Slowly I made my way to the kitchen and stood at the top of the stairs. A door stood where the hole once was. Someone put it there while I was in the hospital. I wondered if they put it there to keep me from a fall, or to keep me in the basement. I opened the door and started down as a cold breath reached out to me. I could feel my body start to shake, but still I put one foot at a time down the stairway. There was also a new hand rail, and I grabbed it gratefully. I would not cry. I repeated that over and over in my head: a new baby. Would I lose daddy too when this new son arrived?
The basement was not large. Someone painted it white. When I looked up, I could still see the water pipes and electrical wires that crisscrossed the room. The furnace, which looked a hundred years old, stood in one corner, the washer and dryer nearby. There was a drain hole in the floor in case of flood. Back against the other wall was my bed and dresser. My clothes hung from a wooden pole attached to the wall inside a cubby hole. There was no carpet on the concrete floor, and there was only a dirty window for light. The lighting was a bare bulb that hung from the ceiling. There were no cobwebs; that must have been daddy who cleared them out. I knew if left up to Mama, the webs would still be there along with the spiders.
My new life had started; I was seven and could handle this. The first night I felt scared enough to hide my head under the covers. For a few years that would be how I slept. My only happiness was that school started soon.