Archive for August, 2010

Another First Night

August 1, 2010



Suddenly I was awake. I looked up. My sister slept in the upper bunk. There was no upper bunk. The bed underneath me was harder than mine. Dad had built our bunk bed in the shop. You could see the shop when you looked out the window at the foot of our bed. It was late summer and I should be hearing crickets and frogs from that open window. There were no crickets, no frogs, no window, no shop, no bunk bed, and no sister. Then slowly, painfully, reluctantly, it came to me, and explained the empty feeling I had. I was in the hospital again.

“I need a bottle.” Someone was crying out in the same drawn out sing-song chanty I had used myself, and had heard others use since I was two years old.  “I need a bottle.” It came again.

The bottle was needed in the small ward. I did an involuntary body check but I didn’t need to pee. I was old enough to be in the middle ward now. I’d been here as a small ward resident at least twice maybe more. The small ward was between the middle ward and the nurse’s station. An arch separated the two wards. The door between the nurse’s station and the small ward was closed at bedtime. Now it opened. The nurse carried a lantern that cast scary shadows as she walked. I pulled the covers tight around me. The rubber soles on her white shoes squeaked on the floor and I could hear her white nylons as they moved inside her white uniform.

My body was having a raging battle of feelings. Some feelings were disturbing, some were comforting, some were both. A murmured exchange I couldn’t follow took place between the lantern carrying, nylon wearing nurse, and the little kid who needed to pee. The horrible empty feelings were winning the battle.

Our mailbox back home was a hundred yards or so from our front door. We could see the mailman when he came and put mail in the box. I was the oldest and before I turned six, all three of my siblings had arrived. Mom would bundle us up and we’d head up the driveway, some walking, some in the stroller, and some riding on the stroller in ways not foreseen, or recommended by stroller engineers. Mail can upset the most un-upsetable adult. Mom would see a piece of mail and become distraught at the mailbox before even opening the offensive envelope. We’d work our way back down the driveway, skillfully dealing with mud puddles, potholes, and spontaneous disengagement between extra riders and stroller. There were many distractions including snakes, frogs, grasshoppers, blackberries, neighbor dogs, and killdeers, but eventually we’d be home again. Life was good. Mom would open the stressful piece of mail and become verbally distraught. “Whats wrong!” I’d say. “Oh nothing! Nothing at all! Who wants cake after dinner tonight?” A day or two later they’d figure out how to tell me I was going back to the hospital again.

As an adult I have prayed many a mighty prayer about adult issues such as love, career, finances, household emergencies, and health. But they cannot begin to equal the prayers I prayed as a child when all I wanted was not to be scared. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.  I know I’m safe here and need to be here, but I’m scared. Help me not be scared.” My mind began to wander. I felt threatened from underneath, and on all sides. So I imagined myself in a very comfortable somewhat shallow hole in the ground, protected somehow from the elements. In retrospect, my safe place was way too much like an open grave but fortunately the symbolism didn’t occur to me at the time. In any event, I no longer felt threatened from underneath or the sides, only from above.  So above I now imagined friends, lions, wolves, and bears. My animal friends would look over the rim of my nest, smile and wish me a good nights sleep. Problem solved. A warm feeling washed over me. The emptiness was still there but under control. I felt safe. I wasn’t scared.

I woke with a start. It was still night. The metal side rail on a crib in the small ward had gone up with the usual unavoidable crash. Was this the same little kid or someone else who needed to pee? The nurse’s lantern cast waves of friendly lights on the walls and ceiling. White shoes and nylons played their enchanting rhythmic melody. The door at the far end of the small ward swung open and shut.

Lions, bears, and wolves peered over the edge of my nest, grinned, circled in place four times, and settled down for a warm peaceful sleep. I smiled too in spite of the empty feeling. Jesus smiled at me from somewhere I couldn’t identify. As I drifted pleasantly back to sleep, I smiled back and meant it. Jesus had, after all, arranged the deal with the lions, wolves, and bears.