Back in the days of “free love”, Martin Luther King and JFK, when everyone was fighting for civil rights and the abolishment of racism, prejudice and war, there was an equally innocent and alarmingly growing population of people who were left undefended. Invisible for all intents and purposes. Uncared for, unwanted and unloved. Without a voice and without rights they were born into this world not by choice, but by the careless whisper of seduction and the accidental meeting of ova and seed.
Orphans. The Forgotten Children.
I know because I am one.
We were housed in homes that neglected us, abused us and only took us in for the government cheque issued once a month for our care. And if no home could be found for us, we were placed in government run, impersonal, dehumanizing, inhumane orphanages. I have experienced both and the memories are not kind.
The 60′s were not enlightened, protective times for abandoned children. Like a strange breed of cattle, we were cloistered, tagged, and herded behind dark and angry walls. Dressed in ill fitting clothes, fed three squares of slop a day, and left to sleep on questionably clean, threadbare cots made of metal coils and cold steel frames. Crushed up side by side in neat little rows, we led anything but neat little lives.
I think the worst days for me were the ‘begging’ days. The days when a comb was run through our hair; our shirts, pants and skirts straightened; spittle and thumbs used to wipe that smudge of dirt off our cheeks, and then forced to smile as we were put on display. Paraded in front of any and all perspective ‘parents’ who, with a cursory glance, had the power to own us or leave us to our fate; their biological brats sitting pretty and clean and pious, eying us and despising us for even thinking we had a right to their life.
On one such occasion, my new family was in attendance. A tall, dark haired man with kind, laughing eyes would soon become my ‘dad’. A small, quiet boy, 3 years younger than I, with a shock of blonde hair and big blue eyes would soon become my ‘obnoxious little brother’. A plain looking girl, 3 years older than I, with curly brown hair and sly green eyes would soon become my ‘sister’. I sensed she was going to be trouble. I was right. And the woman I was soon to call ‘mother’ seemed to look right through me. Strange that I have no clearer memory of her in that moment. It’s just sort of…blank.
They had come to take me out for the day and the staff had warned me to be on my “best behavior”. This could lead to me being chosen if I “played my cards right”. They told me to smile. More. I tried. But my face felt stiff and my heart rock heavy. I had been through this all before. Many times.
I smiled anyhow. Big and bright and wide. It never touched my eyes. Once brown and sweet and trusting, they had turned black and cold and angry. I tried not to look bitter.
I always had a hard time smiling on ‘begging’ days. On any day for that matter. I think my smile disappeared just around the time I discovered it. There hadn’t been time to fill the proverbial halls with my innocent laughter. No time to revel in the joys of becoming a carefree child. By the time I was 4 years old, I understood what it felt like to whore myself and my child withered up and died.