The summer of 1958, you turned two years old. You were a joyful little towhead and my constant companion. Since I was a whole four years older than you, you thought I was the absolute boss of the universe and I seriously accepted that role. Larry was now the baby of the family and it seemed to me that given the very slight age difference of sixteen months, your babyhood was shortchanged. Babies take up so much time and since you were a toddler and potty trained, Larry naturally absorbed all of Mom’s available time, and you were left in the care of a six year old. We played “school” and even though I was only finishing the first grade, I would sit you down and you would obediently pick up a pencil and scribble on the paper and I pretended that you could write all of your numbers and letters as well as your name. Of course, I had the brightest student. I was the confident teacher and mother figure to you.
That confidence dissolved one afternoon in the split second action of a six year old. What began as a protective gesture from a six year old to her innocent charge turned into the first bodily injury to you, and a nightmare that still brings tears to my eyes.
There you were, sitting next to me on the top bunk in the bedroom. You were just playing with whatever this and that you found on the bed while I silently read my book. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched in horror as you placed the sharp hook end of a wire clothes hanger inside of your mouth. Thinking only that it was dangerous, I sprang into action and grabbed the hanger from your hand, not realizing that as I frantically pulled, the hook was scraping a hole through the inside of your cheek and literally collecting bits of fleshy tissue on the hanger itself. You did not realize the pain until, both of us looking at the blood and tissue on the hanger, began to cry. You immediately held out your arms for me to comfort you and we held each other as I cried in stark realization of what I had done to my baby brother and you screeched in unimaginable pain. Blood from your baby mouth poured onto both of us and the bed as well. I am certain it was merely seconds until Mom appeared and all I remember of that was Mom angrily screaming at me and you crying as she pulled you out of my arms and into safety – away from me. You were not taken to the emergency room. Mom called Dr. Tupper and he told her how to care for the wound with hydrogen peroxide (more baby screams) and some baby aspirin to help with the pain. After what seemed like hours, but was probably more like several minutes, you had cried yourself out and drifted off to sleep in Mom’s arms.
Aside from overwhelming guilt, I also knew I was in big trouble. In our house, there was never such thing as an “accident”. If milk was spilled at the dinner table (and with six kids, it often was), it was spilled because someone was “horsing around”. If something got torn or broken, it was because someone didn’t care how many hours Daddy had to work to pay for things. And, if someone got hurt, it was because someone else was just being mean.
I wasn’t allowed to come near you. I sat, sobbing to sniffling and back to sobbing, in the living room waiting for Dad to come home in answer to Mom’s call that “Connie ripped Markie’s mouth with a clothes hanger”, somehow making it sound like a planned action. I only feared disappointment from Daddy, as it was his strict belief and rule, that girls should never be spanked. I hated the thought that he would be upset and disappointed with me for what I had done. But, he was a reasonable man and I was certain that he would understand the situation as I explained. Not so.
No explanation on my part was solicited or allowed. As I was ready to defend myself to Daddy, I was told to shut up and get in the car. I had no shoes on as was the custom for most kids on a sunny Colorado summer day. I dutifully followed instructions and walked barefoot to the car and slid in the back seat. I never questioned where we were going – actually, never even thought to do so. But what happened next left me shaken and wounded both physically and mentally.
The State Home and Training School located in what was then the far outskirts of town, consisted of several buildings housing and educating around 800 adults and children with different levels of mental retardation. I volunteered close to 100 hours at the facility in my teen years, but at the age of six, I was totally unaware of the building and its use. So, when my Daddy told me that high fenced compound was an orphanage, what else was I to believe? The gates were locked and no car was allowed to enter without a security code. But, what I was told was that the gate was closed for the day, and since I was being given to the orphanage, I would need to wait until they “opened” in the morning. Since I had no shoes, Daddy carried me over to a concrete slab outside the fence which was probably about nine square feet, stood me up, returned back to the car and drove away. I remember standing for quite a while, watching for the car to appear. After about an hour, I started to cry while walking around the little slab and then sat for a few minutes and then resume pacing. Since it was early evening when Daddy even got home from work, the sun was now beginning to set. It wasn’t near dark, but being such a prissy little girl who was deathly afraid of any kind of bug, terror fully encompassed me. It was getting darker still, so that I could not see more than a few feet in front of my face, when I saw headlights approaching. I desperately wanted it to be Daddy so I could back to the safety of my bedroom. By the same token, I was furious that my normally over-protective father would place me in that type of situation. He knew how afraid I was of insects and lizards, and yet he left me there with no protection. And worse yet, I felt insecure, unloved, and unnecessary. There were other occurrences between my Daddy and I; and each one of these chipped away at my self-esteem and for my entire life, I tried to build myself up in his eyes. I never really thought I did.
Daddy remained seated in the driver’s seat staring ahead at the empty road. I waited for a moment before I walked barefoot through the thistles and atop the jagged little rocks, fearing that if I approached the car uninvited, I would be turned away. The drive home took about thirty minutes. I ran from the car into the house and immediately drew a warm bubble bath to soak the dirt from my feet and the pain in my heart before I could settle into my bed for the night. I do not recall either parent speaking to me about that day and night ever again. It was as though nothing ever happened.
The next morning I was happily awakened by your little hands resting on my cheeks and your toddler words “wake up, Sissy. I hungry!” Music to my heart.