A Loss of Innocence, of SortsPosted: December 27, 2007
My first memory is in black and white — flashes in light and dark and gray shadows of moments that lifted me to a new level of being and understanding.
“Turn over,” the bulky nurse said and pulled the covers back with the callousness of one who had stared down military inductees and told them, with an attitude of cold conviction that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all, to drop their pants. I didn’t want anyone to see my butt.
At three years, eleven months, I broke my left arm in the elbow when I fell off the crossbars of the swing set, doing fancy tricks because I was good at hanging, flipping, and acrobatics. Dr. Ringold wouldn’t set it. He sent me to Campbell’s Clinic in Memphis to an orthopedist. He’d only attempted to fix one other similar break during all his years of practice, and that woman could not straighten her arm for the rest of her life.
Nurses pushed me down a long hallway on a gurney. There were toys on a high shelf along the way — stuffed bears and ten-inch rigid dolls, cheap items to take the focus off my pain and fear. They told me I could pick any toy I wanted. I made a quick choice because I was afraid — one of those hard plastic dolls — and regretted it because I really wanted something else that appeared to have more value.
Mama was about seven months pregnant then and when the subject comes up about my broken arm and a night in the hospital, all she remembers is that it was hot in Memphis in August and the air conditioning went out. She spent the night sleeping on the cool tile floor under my bed, and Dad slept in the car in the parking lot and got eaten up by mosquitoes. Besides the rocky ride down the hall and the toys on the wall, all I remember is the nurse who came into my room the next morning and told me to turn over on my side. I didn’t know why, but as I eased away from her, I saw her whip out a thermometer and give it a few shakes. It worried me what she was going to do with it, but I was just a kid, and I was supposed to obey what a grownup told me.
Instead of sticking that thing in my mouth under my tongue like she was supposed to, she inserted it in the other end. A wave of sick humiliation came and went over me and sank in deep to my core. I closed my eyes and held them tight and scrunched up my face, mashing it into the pillow. After it was over, I pulled the covers close to me and held them there with my fists and wanted to cry. I did, silently, inside. I looked around the room and out the door at the nurse’s station to see who all saw that incident. Then I settled into a feeling that I had been invaded, violated.
I learned right then and there that things could happen to me — things I didn’t even know about. I’d have to watch out for myself. Because I was small and adults were big, they could do whatever they wanted to me, even put things into my body, whether a rectal thermometer, or anything else of their choosing. It wasn’t fair, or right.