a memory from october, 2007… brought to today for entirely personal reasons…
for those who do not know, i was raised in a children’s home. my parents left me at my grandmother’s house when i was three. my grandmother put me into the home as soon as they would take me, at age five. i was there until age 11.
for many years, i wondered what was wrong with me. what was so bad and ugly that my family did not love me, did not want me around. it is a manner of wound that never really heals. to this day, it is sore and aching but most times the friends i have and the parents i found in my houseparents keep the worst of it at bay.
but when i was nine, and just beginning to really understand that i did not have ‘parents’ the way most of the world did, when i finally began to understand why the kids at school picked at and hated me so much (the high crime of being too different), it was just an empty, ugly, painful mess.
some of the kids at the home were orphans. some of the kids were from ‘families in crisis’, and some were like me. there was a bit of a hierarchy amongst the kids. we never really talked about it, there was no secret list of the pecking order… but it pretty much went in this order. the kids who were orphaned you left alone, because their parents had died and that obviously wasn’t their fault.
the kids who were there ‘temporarily’ took a little bit of ribbing and such, mostly related to how they maybe were to blame for the ‘crisis’. but those kinds of things usually stopped when it became obvious that their crisis wasn’t ending. usually, that put them in the ‘orphaned’ category for some reason. untouchable.
then you had the kids like me. there weren’t many of us. out of the 200 or so there, maybe ten were from families that just abandoned them. all the friendly ribbing the crisis kids got we received as blame. in a weird way, it was almost like the other two groups needed someone to feel ‘better than’ and i reckon we were it.
the lines were pretty thickly drawn. i’ve often marveled at how well you “know” even when no one has ever said it out loud. but we did. all of us. kids like me were always reminded how our families didn’t even want us, so we must really be jacked up. lots of conversations in the back of the bus, at homework time, in whispers, left as little notes in unexpected places. crudely scrawled, anonymous hate letters… we got all the stuff their families couldn’t… after all, if you got angry, you might wind up unwanted, too.
on my tenth birthday, i received a package. it was from an address i didn’t know….no name. the houseparents delivered it and the kids gathered around, curious. wasn’t often any of us got a package. let alone a mysterious one.
i have to admit, i knew it was some kind of birthday present. but i had no idea what. my grandmother and great grandparents had already spent a weekend with me previously and what birthday i was going to have with them had been done. who else would send me something?
i opened the package and in it was a box of decorative soaps. little shells and balls… they smelled like roses. pink and slick to the touch, resting in a bed of white decorative straw and all nestled on a little white, ceramic dish with tiny roses painted on the sides.
no note. no card. i knew immediately that it was from my mother. i took the entire thing into my room and closed the door. i sat on my bed and explored it all so very slowly… lifting each soap to inhale it… looking at the little dish from every angle… almost weak with delight for the notion that MY mother had send me a birthday present. a beautiful, beautiful present.
for a moment, it didn’t matter that she wasn’t there. and it didn’t matter all the nights i had lain in bed and cried for wondering where she was. and it didn’t matter that all the years had been so lonely and filled with hurt for all the things a kid thinks. she had sent me a birthday present.
she knew where i was.
she loves me.
i must have looked very foolish sitting there, the box and its contents spread over the twin bed, rocking and crying and whispering in my head, ‘she loves me….’ but it was the first hint i’d had in seven years and i clung to it like a drowning man would a preserver.
it made the hateful things that the other kids did and said not hurt so much. they were wrong and i had the proof. little pink, rose scented proof.
for the next week or so, nothing could touch me. the little, ugly notes some of the kids would leave i would laugh and tear up and throw away. looking at the little dish in the shared room, safe on my nightstand, in easy sight from anywhere… proof they were wrong.
that’s an old memory. one of the oldest, really. i won’t tell you how it has been shredded over time. it’s pretty tattered these days, but on occasion, i still take it out and look at it. for various reasons.
today, i look at it and wish i had a soapbox to give to my son. i wish he could receive it. i wish he could just… know. he was never the kid who had no one. but i suppose there’s never a good way to lose a parent… and any of them are bound to leave the feeling that you’re unloved.
i wish i had a soapbox to give my son. but all i have are words and he’s too angry to hear them.