“Parents have such formidable power. They can protect you from all the pain in the world. Or inflict the hardest pain of all. And as children we accept what we get. Perhaps we believe that anything is better than that which we all fear the most: loneliness and abandonment. “
Author: Linda Olsson
I wasn’t born abandoned. I had a family once. A dark haired, flashing eyed Ojibwa vixen and an African American casanova gave birth to me and a younger brother. Two dreamy, idealistic teenagers, who fell in love, got married and thought they knew the world. Thought they would be the difference. They were wrong. We never had a hope of surviving as a family. All of us had been lost at conception.
Her scream pierced the air. Sharp in disbelief. I watched as the steaming iron fell to the floor. She stumbled, one hand clutching her belly, the other reaching out. Dazed, she sank into the chair and stared in growing horror at the flashing images on the TV screen. Three shots. One to the head. JFK was dead. It was November 22, 1963. I was two and a half years old.
My first memory.
Profound in both my mind and in history.
Not the most auspicious beginning for my recall, but there it is.
~Early Spring.1964 ~
We lived in a small, two bedroom upper flat and slept on bare gingham mattresses. I remember tracing the blue and white stripes. Pulling at the hard tufted buttons that dug into my skin. All to no avail. They had become an uncomfortable, unavoidable part of my sleep. My brother and I shared a bed. More than once I woke up soaked in urine. I didn’t mind that much. I loved my little man and protected him fiercely. Sometimes we’d wake in the night. Alone. Forgotten. The air quiet and sour. The dream of being the difference must have died after he and I were born.
It was on such a night that I woke to a strange silence. And a dampness under my hip. Jimmy had peed the bed again. He lay close and tucked into the curve of my back. I pushed him gently to the dry side and slid my feet to the cold wooden floor. Our room was located at the end of a long hallway, the bathroom directly to the left. I walked in sleepily, blindly, the routine instilled, and pulled the long chain hanging from the bare light-bulb in the ceiling. Green walls. Light, but unattractive. Tub and sink white, clean and unadorned. The harsh light was not friendly. I closed my eyes as I sat, aware again of the strange silence. I’m not sure why it felt strange. I don’t recall my home being filled with sounds. Happy or otherwise. But that night, something was different. Off. I just knew. I must have. The proof is in the clarity of memory.
I flushed, washed my hands and pulled the chain. Darkness loomed but got brighter as I moved slowly, almost cautiously, down the hallway. The living room was lit. Appeared lived in. Half empty glasses and dirty ashtrays littered the coffee table. Cushions askew on the couch. A pale blanket on the chair. Toys stuffed in the corner. A children’s book on the floor. But the room was empty of life. I was left with the impression of ghosts having recently passed through. Confused, but not alarmed, I continued to peer around corners and walls, but no-one else was in the apartment. My brother and I were alone. I remember seeing what looked like a large basket on the dining room table behind the couch. Decorated with ribbons. A celebration of some sort, it seemed. And yet, there were no guests in attendance. My parents were nowhere to be found.
I walked to the front door. It was unlocked. I opened it and made my way down the dimly lit stairwell to another door, and then the street. I remember sitting on the wet curb in a pajama top and underwear. It must have just rained. My toes played in the muddy, leaf filled water as it rushed curbside down the slope of the darkened street. Most of the houses around me were lit up. Families. Laughing. Loving. Together. Even then I understood that things were different in my home. I watched the shimmering sparkle of street lamps reflected on the slick black pavement. Then looked up at the night sky. Twinkling with magic. I think that’s when first fell in love with starlight.
My parents never returned that night. Or the day after. Or the day after that. We were left in the care of my mother’s cousin, Grace. At 19 she had come to live with us temporarily. Swollen in belly. Unhappy. Trapped in a marriage of convenience. Seems the ribboned bassinette had been gifted to her by my parents after the birth her baby. But the celebration had ended abruptly in a jealous teenage rage. A misunderstood affection. My father’s for Grace. My hot tempered mother had stormed out of the apartment. My father had chased after her. Grace had followed but was unable to reason with either. She came back. My parents didn’t. She found me on the curb. Brought me back inside. And stayed with us. A full week passed in silence. Stretched beyond the competency of children raising children, and with deepest regret I am told, Grace had no recourse but to call in the Children’s Aid Society.
So, as was characteristic of the 60’s mandate of those patron “saints” of abandoned children, the CAS swooped in with their eagle like talons. Carried us away to a darker and even more terrifying version of Never-Never-Land. Mr Hook was a Mrs. And brutally sadistic. Peter Pan and his band of Lost Boys were horrible bullies. And Tinker Bell was a social worker dressed in a long, white trench coat. But, instead of fairy dust, she carried a magical black briefcase filled with potential people and places we might call home again.
Eventually the briefcase emptied.
So did our hope.
Jimmy was a year and a half. I was almost 3.
And to this day, I don’t think either of us has really ever truly returned.
Patricia Anne (16) and James Charles Wilkinson (17)
~ RIP ~
(Me in the belly.)