Thank you so so much, readers of this blog and on Facebook, for all the comments and support of the piece I’ve been posting about my illness and hospitalization.
I’m not sure exactly where it ends. I like the sense of closure at the end of section four. My friend Kath said, somewhat disconcertingly, that even at the end nothing had changed. I was still trying to get help and failing. And in many ways that was true. Whatever was going to change was going to take years.
However, there is a short section more, which I’m posting here. I’m feeling the narrative stands by itself, but it is also part of a much longer piece I’m working on, hopefully book-length.
The next day I was discharged. I had been released into my parent’s care. I had fought the doctors on this, but they had insisted it was either a nursing home or New Jersey. I couldn’t fly home because of my lungs. My father said he’d drive me. I put on the purple embroidered shirt and my own underwear. The little ring of enamel flowers, though, was sadly lost forever.
That first night out we stayed at the Copley Plaza, where my parents had been married, to rest up for the drive. I had my own room. My dad let me invite my boyfriend for room service dinner. We shared an avocado stuffed with crabmeat and each ate a steak. I caught a glimpse of us making love in a mirrored wardrobe. I looked terrifying, like a barely developed teenager. A violent red scar with railroad track cross hatchings burned across my torso.
A few hours before, I’d been anxious, getting out of the cab and having to cross the lobby of the hotel.
“What will people think when they see me?” I asked my father. I was also afraid someone would bump into my painful right side.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “No one will know what has happened to you. You just look like you’ve had a mental breakdown.”
At the time, distressed as I was, I found this re-assuring. Although now that my father is dead, forty years later, I like his response less. Why was a mental breakdown somehow more acceptable than almost dying? Was it something he expected of me-—mental collapse? It was the start of my parent’s total refusal to ever discuss my illness and surgery. And yet at that moment I just wished that he would also say he was sorry about what had happened to me.
However, it is obvious now that my father did indeed save my life. And that I never thanked him. I’m not sure he felt thanks were due—-he was my father after all, and in his own way committed to that role.
A few years ago, I had the startling realization that although my experience in the B.I. was of being traumatized and tortured, that was not the doctors and nurses intent at all. I understood quite vividly, and for the first time, that to them I was a desperately ill young person—someone’s child—who they would try and save. As a result, I wrote the B.I. an anonymous letter thanking them. I enclosed $36.00 in cash. In Jewish mysticism, the number 18 stands for chai, or life. Charity is often given in “double chai” or amounts of thirty-six. It is spiritually efficacious for both giver and receiver.
And the time has also come for me to say the same thing to my father. Thank you.