A Metal Pole And The First Day of School

On the first day of kindergarten, I walked into a metal pole. This is completely understandable, given the fact I was gawking at the big kids streaming into the building. There I was, watching the big kids, when all of a sudden: SMACK. My five year old blond head rammed into one of the poles that supported the school entrance’s overhang.

I stumbled backwards, dropping my lunchbox. Whether it was from the pain of the welt forming on my forehead or the sheer humiliation, I began to cry. This was also completely understandable. I still cry easily. Frantically, I looked around for my older brother who had received strict instructions from my mom to keep an eye on me.

When Vincent heard my wailing I am certain he groaned. (Remember, I cried easily.) Through watery eyes I saw him leave his group of cool third grade friends and make his way to where I was standing. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember his sheer embarrassment. Couldn’t I even walk into the entrance without incident?

Vincent led me to the nurse – walking ahead in hopes that no one would realize I was his little sister. Cool Vinnie couldn’t possibly have a whiny, blubbering little sister who walks into poles? Well, let me tell you – he did.

Upon arriving to the nurses’ office, Vincent turned and fled, leaving me alone with the school nurse who seemed large and old. And grumpy. She handed me an ice pack and told me to sit on the brown vinyl chair next to her desk. I heard morning announcements on the PA system. I watched stronger, braver kids who didn’t walk into metal poles pass by the office.

I wanted the nurse to call my mom so I could go home. I needed my mom to kiss my forehead and make this all better. The ice pack wasn’t doing anything, except freezing my skin so it felt like it was being pinched. Where was my mom? She was supposed to rescue me from these situations.

Eventually the school nurse remembered I was there, removed the ice pack and sent me to my kindergarten classroom. Miraculously I remembered the way my brother had led me, and I retraced my steps to the school’s entrance. At the end of the hall I could see my kindergarten classroom – the door open – waiting. I hurried to the class, my Smurf lunchbox thumping against my leg.

I burst through the door to find children sitting primly at their desks.

“You’re late,” my teacher said.

It was then I realized my mom couldn’t rescue me from all situations. I was going to have to handle these life events on my own. I found my desk, sat down, and turned my eyes to the teacher. But only after I started crying first.

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I Want To Go Home

Her name was Mary and she was dying. I was the social work intern, fumbling my way through situations I had mistakenly assumed I could handle.

“I want to go home,” Mary told me during our first visit.

She resembled an Auschwitz victim. The cancer had ravaged her body, leaving her nothing more than soft skin hanging from delicate bones. She looked small and vulnerable in the hospital bed. Her frame barely made a dent in the mattress.

I knew Mary could never go home. She wasn’t strong enough to stand unassisted, let alone walk. Plus, there was no one to care for her even if she could return home. The only family she had was a son who lived in the mid-west. She would have to remain in the hospital until the end.

“Tell me about your home,” I said.

Briefly, Mary’s eyes brightened. She spoke of the small brick cape she had worked so hard to save for and buy. In that house she raised her son, alone. Her husband left her early in their marriage for someone else.

“I was a single mom,” she said, the expression on her face pained from the memory of her husband’s betrayal and not the cancer, “It was so hard.”

Her lips twitched into a smile, “But Robert went to medical school. He’s a surgeon now.” Her smile reflected a mother’s pride.

Later that afternoon I attempted to reach Mary’s son. I left messages with the receptionist at his office, and then tried his nurse. When he never returned my calls, I phoned his house. Robert’s wife answered.

“We’re so sad about Mary,” she said.

“Robert needs to see her … soon. She is failing.” I explained.

“But he can’t,” she said, “He is too busy.” She paused briefly before continuing, “And he doesn’t want to see her like that.”

I knew this was a social worker’s golden opportunity. This was my chance to use the questions and tactics I had learned to explore Robert’s fear of seeing his dying mother. I had read countless of pages on avoidant behavior. I should have known exactly how to respond.

But words escaped me. Instead, I grieved for Mary – lying alone in her hospital bed with only the hospital staff and Hospice workers to bring her comfort.

“He may never see her again alive,” I said bluntly.

Robert’s wife promised to relay my message.

The following day a friend of mine and I were walking to class. I spotted an array of colorful autumn leaves covering the ground. I remembered Mary saying she loved the fall and missed the foliage it brought. Her window in the hospital looked out at the concrete of a neighboring building.

Frantically, I started gathering leaves. My friend paused.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“My patient,” I said, “She misses the color of fall.”

“That’s the saddest thing I have ever heard.” My friend began to pick up leaves. “Here. Here is a yellow one. And red. She has to have a red leaf.”

The next morning I brought my armful of leaves to Mary. Her lids were closed and when I whispered her name, she struggled to lift them.

“Mary, look,” I whispered, holding the leaves up, “I brought Autumn to you.”

Slowly, Mary smiled and I took her hand in mine. Together we sat in silence, and looked at the colors of fall.

A Murder or Strange Hair? You Decide.

I confess: I’m a hotel snob. This elitist mentality is not an attribute I admire in myself.  In fact, I envy those who can march into a Days Inn or Motel Six and not be phased by foreign curly hairs in the bottom of the bathtub, or a sticky TV remote. While certainly not life threatening, these aspects of budget hotels coerce me to spend significantly more money on accommodations I know will be pleasant.

Cleanliness isn’t the only quality I require when seeking temporary lodging. I also refuse to step foot in a Bed and Breakfast where murder has occurred. Call me odd, but shutting my eyes in the same room where someone was once hacked to death would not give me a warm, fuzzy feeling as I drift to sleep.

Thus, staying at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast (located in Fall Rivers, Massachusetts) is out of the question; since not just one, but two people were murdered in their rooms. Picky of me, I know. Even the picture of the hatchet posted on the B&B’s website did nothing to encourage me to book an overnight stay.

If unfamiliar with Lizzie Borden, allow me to give you a brief synopsis of her life: She was the daughter of rich parents. One hot August day in 1892, Lizzie bludgeoned her mother and father to death with a hatchet while they were taking their afternoon naps. She was accused of murder and found not guilty. The End.

Or one would think. Weirdly enough, there continues to be such fascination with Lizzie Borden that her home – where the murders took place – is now a Bed and Breakfast. That’s right! For approximately $220 a night you can sleep in one of the rooms where hatchet bearing Lizzie and her parents once lived. For those of you who are not faint of heart, you can sleep in the very room where Mrs. Borden’s face was chopped into smithereens (though this will cost you an additional $50.)

Note that while children under five are “loved and welcomed,” they are not loved enough to spend the night. This is perplexing, given that children under five would have no idea where they were sleeping – thus being saved from any potential trauma inflicted on them by staying in a house where two bloody murders occurred. Also, children under five would not understand the annual re-enactment that takes place on the anniversary of the slayings. Children over five years of age, however, are welcome to spend the night and be traumatized by watching the annual re-enacted hackings of Mr. and Mrs. Borden.

The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast also hosts a gift shop. For overnight guests (remember, that includes children over five years of age) and daily visitors who partake in the 50 minute guided tour of the house, the gift shop is the perfect place to find disturbing gifts and Lizzie Borden memorabilia. Who wouldn’t want a Lizzie Borden Bobble Head that brandishes a hatchet? Or a coffee mug boasting a picture of the crime scene? Lastly, for all of you bakers, there are ax-shaped cookie cutters.

Am I wimpy? Perhaps. Snobbish? Sure. Though given the choice of staying in a budget hotel versus the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, I would go straight for the budget hotel. While it may not be the cleanest room with the most comfortable mattress, at least no one was clubbed to death with a hatchet in the adjacent room.

(Think I’m joking? Click HERE)