The Key

Photo Credit: Sue Vincent

 

Practically everyone but the real-estate agent had been against him purchasing the place.

“That heap of rot is a death trap,” his friend Tomas had said.

“It is haunted,” Fran had shuddered. “You’ll get murdered in your sleep and become another ghost, just like them.”

Others hadn’t been much subtler:

“The place is a wreck!”

“This monster will eat up all your money and spit you out broke and homeless.”

“Are you out of your effing mind?”

“Gosh, Dude, you need a shrink!”

To be fair, the last two statements were probably true. … Not that this stopped him from finding ways to manage all these years without a shrink. Not that there weren’t times during the first year in the house, when the old thing seemed intent on falling about his ears and his bank account skied a Black Diamond toward zero, when he didn’t wonder whether his mental health was sliding south just as precipitously.

But he’d held on to his bootstraps and soldiered on. In part to not lose face but mostly because he had indeed sank so much of his limited assets into the house that there was no way out but through. He gave up his rental apartment in town and erected a tent in the middle of the mansion’s living room where the roof leaked the least. He uncovered the well and hauled out buckets of muck before clean water once more found purchase. He cleared paths through the overgrown hedges and the man-height weeds that overtook what had been a lawn around the house. He scraped moss and mold off of stone walls. He evicted pigeons, rats, squirrels, countless spiders, and a skunk that made sure her discontent lingered. He discovered woodwork under paint, a carved gate under briars, a clubfoot tub under rubble, and a door to a hidden passageway behind a rotting cabinet.

Here and there a friend would agree to help with this or that, and twice he’d hired someone with engine-muscle to lug out things that needed more than human-power. But most his friends couldn’t help (and some refused to ‘enable’ what they declared an insanity), and hiring anyone ate big bites out of a budget that wasn’t hefty to begin with. So he buckled down and did much of the work himself, making small but steady dents in a mountain he did not think would ever yield to order. The list of things left to do only kept growing: parts of the roof needed repair, the kitchen floor needed replacing, the electric lines were too ancient to hold power, the pipes leaked, and the sewers were more roots than flow. The work was Sisyphean.

And still … between moments of sheer desolation and utter despair, he realized that he was actually sleeping soundly for the first time in his life. A smile would sneak onto his lips as he sanded this or patched up that or cleared another mess of spider webs or thickets. He hummed an ear-worm for a whole weekend and no one shushed him for not being able to carry a tune.

It was as if he’d accepted the house and its flaws, and the house in return had accepted him. He felt happy. He felt at home.

The realization stunned him.

Though he wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, he came to understand that the reason he had been drawn to purchasing a run-down estate with overgrown grounds in the middle of a god-forsaken forest, was in part because of memories of another building surrounded by a tall stone fence: the “Home” that never truly was one and yet had been the only model he’d had.

He’d accumulated more moments of abject misery in the “Home” than he ever wanted to recall. Countless nights yearning to be old enough to leave … even as he’d feared the day he would be made to do so.

This long-neglected house with its aged stone fence and beautiful wide gate, was his. No one could tell him he’d aged out and could not stay. No one could tell him that his bed is needed to make room for someone else, or that it was time for him to fend for himself and no longer rely on the charity of others to feed and clothe and put a roof over his head.

It didn’t matter that the repairs would take years and that most of the rooms would not be usable for just as long. It didn’t matter that he didn’t have a clear plan for what he’d use all these rooms for. What mattered was that this old place was real. That it was full of history and memory. That it stood firm onto the ground and offered to be the roots he’d otherwise have no way to lay claim to. This house was him. Healing it was the key to who he could become.

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo prompt invitation

 

The Boy Who Was Very Brave

 

left human injected with hose on white textile

Photo: rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

“Be brave,” he said, and closed his eyes to ward off at least the pain of seeing his skin pierced by sharpness.

“Just a scratch,” the nurse stated in rote-like monotone, forgetting that for this boy nothing at this point was ‘just a scratch,’ especially not with veins well worn from prodding, let alone in a child who must struggle to understand why any of this was necessary.

“Be brave,” he said again, and his voice shook, and a tear slid under his lids and traveled down the small cheek to settle on his ear like a tiny sorrow-diamond.

“I’m sorry,” the nurse pressed her lips together when the third poke failed and another scarred blood vessel rolled under her needle. She’ll have to try another site. How on earth did someone not put a port in this child yet?

“Be brave,” the boy clenched his eyes to slits but more tears fled. “Be brave.”

The nurse looked up, distressed by his determined resignation. She paused and placed her gloved hand on his cheek. “You are,” she said. “Very.”

Eyes still shut, he shuddered and she wasn’t sure if he understood. She pulled a chair to his gurney and smoothed his hair. Someone from the Children’s Home had brought him to the hospital with another flareup, but the orphanage was too short-staffed to have anyone stay with him, especially when the boy wasn’t fussy and reportedly “used to” the hospital.

As if there could be such a thing as a child being “used to” being alone in a hospital.

“You are brave,” she repeated. Her eyes stung and perhaps the emotion in her voice more than her words filtered through his bracing because his eyes opened to meet hers.

“You don’t deserve any of this,” she said. “No one does. What you do deserve is to get better, and for people to really see and understand how brave you are. You are so so brave.”

Another tear rolled toward his ear. She hoped this one wasn’t from fear but from recognizing a connection.

“I’ll be as gentle as I can,” she promised. “I know this must be awful, but I need to get a line in for your medicine. Can you be brave for me just a bit longer?”

He held her eyes before he nodded.

“Good boy. So let’s just get this over with?”

He nodded again and this time did not close his eyes but hung them on her face. He did not look away or make a sound as she flicked and poked and needled.

“Good lad,” she praised, relieved, as she finally placed the clear bandage over the IV.

He took in a long breath.

“Can I get you anything?” she lingered, wanting to do something for this boy, so small and pale and alone.

He nodded.

“Some juice or crackers, maybe? It’ll do you good to get some of these in you,” she chattered. “I bet we have some toys I can borrow from the playroom for you.”

He held her gaze.

“Can I go home with you?” he asked. “I promise to be brave for you. I’ll be brave every day.”

 

 

(*Based on a true story.)

For Six Word Saturday

 

 

Mystery Mom

church pew AMDB7 on Flickr

Photo: AMDB7 on Flickr

 

She doesn’t know who her mom is. She was left as a newborn, wrapped in a piece of old bedsheet, under a pew in the church. Or so the story goes.

She spent her first year in the orphanage. Many mewling mouths and too few holding arms. She found a way to survive.

Halfway into her second year she got picked up, fussed over with odd sounds, carried out of the room that had been her world. It was confusing. It was good. It was a lot.

She has a family now. They love her. They are patient. Most of the time. They try.

She’s a big girl. Almost ten. She understands. Sometimes.

She still can’t help but wonder who she is. What made her undesirable. Why she was left, naked not only of clothes but of clues.

She still can’t help but wonder about the woman who’d had her, then left without a sound. The woman who isn’t even mist and fog of memory and yet she still is tethered to in heart and mind. Her Mystery Mom.

 

 

 

For The Daily Post

Empty

(Dedicated with love to the children who survived, and to those who couldn’t.)

Luchenza Orphanage by photocillin on Flickr

Orphanage by photocillin on Flickr

 

There were no toys. There were no hugs.

There were no hands to pat wet eyes.

There were no smiles. There were no songs.

There were no calming lullabies.

There were long nights. There were cold days.

There were no comforts when one cried.

There was just time.

Immense.

Indefinite.

There was just fear.

Impervious.

Infectious.

There were blank stares.

A deafening silence.

There were human metronomes

Rocking in desperate absence.

 

There were no words.

There still aren’t any.

Just threads of heart

To weave the splintered

Into many.

 

 

 

 

For The Daily Post

Heartbeat of love

heartbeat

The little boy had a difficult beginning. Born unwelcome, left at an orphanage in a rural area overseas, raised in a crib in a room full of other babies in cribs–bereft of stimulation or affection or even much in the way of nourishment, when funds at the orphanage were low.

He was among the fortunate ones who survived infancy, and was adopted at age two, to parents who showered all the love they had on him and then found that they had even more to give when that threatened to run out. He was not easy to care for, you see. Unresponsive, non-communicative, alternately rubbing himself against their legs like a kitten, squirming to get off, or slumping like a lump of potatoes in their arms. He either cried inconsolably or stared stoically. He would eat things that should not be eaten and hide foods that should. He could not fall asleep unless he was in an empty bed, never a quiet room, and only after a long while of rhythmic head banging. He barely spoke. Only sometimes responded to his name. It was not looking good.

Fortunately, these parents had excellent instincts, stout souls, and good guidance. They sought help to know how to best assist a child so traumatized that he had learned to take himself away to cope. How to support a child who did not know others could be relied on. How to guide into love a child who did not recognize affection as markers for attachment or caring. They did not believe those who said that their son was autistic. “Maybe he is,” they argued, “but how could we know if he’s autistic, if he never had a chance to truly communicate?”

They sought other opinions and took him to speech language therapy and sensory therapy. They went to counseling themselves–there was much heartbreak to deal with in finally having a child and finding him unwelcoming of love. They looked for help with someone who understood developmental trauma and the adjoining dissociation that often follows–they wanted to know more how to best support him. They knew just loving him more was not enough: they had to find a way to help him process what he’d lived before he could find hope to live differently. Together with professionals, they worked to help give voice to what had none, they walked with him along the story of his lost beginning and his suffering and his strength and masterful coping and his current safety. He needed to know it in all of his being before he could trust it. Gently, they helped him heal.

Persistent gentle kindness integrated with knowledgeable attention and direction helped. The child bloomed. He is no longer checked out from his world, or words, or feelings. He’s in first grade now. Still closing gaps in language and communication, and he may always carry scars from his early years and a plausible exposure to substances before birth that make it difficult for him to regulate his body’s reactions and excitement. However, a more affectionate little boy you would be pressed hard to find. He’s happy. He knows he’s loved.

Not too long ago we were busy with a task where we listed things one does in the morning, or after school, or on weekends, or in a mall, or a park, or before going to sleep at night. To the last he said: “take a bath, brush my teeth, read a book, put my head on mama or papa’s chest.”

I smiled at that–the mom told me that they had a nightly routine where they’d cuddle, making up for the many lonely nights of empty cribs and no arms to rock him. They would snuggle together for a while, let him use them as a pillow, then kiss him goodnight. The parents had held him most the night when he was younger, once he let them.

The boy nodded at me, maybe taking my quiet smile as a sign that he needed to convince me of the veracity of what he was saying, or its importance. “Mama is softer, …” he continued, “and papa’s chest boo-booms louder. I like it. It makes me feel nice inside and it helps me not feel like I have to bang my head.”

Enough said.