Solitary Confinement

Oh, the way my mind works! Sometimes I find things so humorous and other times I veer to the dark and morbid. This post is definitely the latter. It was somewhat inspired by the play my theater students wrote a few years back, as well as the RagTag prompt (trace) and the Online Writer’s Guild prompt (the silence woke her). Feel free to let me know if it weirds you out as much as it does me.

The silence woke her. Silence was not a sound she was accustomed to, not anymore, not since she’d been committed. It unnerved her. Why on earth was it so quiet? She lay completely still, waiting . . . for a moan or a scream, for the pounding or shuffling of feet, for some flurry of activity. Nothing—there was nothing! Should she move? Go investigate? She was afraid to, afraid of what might be happening beyond the door to her room.

Her mind worked through an array of possible explanations. Perhaps everyone, doctors and nurses included, had been drugged. Maybe they were all bound and gagged or they had been killed by some mysterious intruder—or, more likely, by someone who knew the inner workings of this place. But if they knew about this place, they would know about her, and nothing had been done to her. . . Good Lord!—that prompted an even worse thought. What if she had done something to the others and just didn’t remember? She’d had lapses in her memory before. That was part of the reason she was here. The other part was that she suffered frequent, yet unexpected bouts of aggression often precipitated by loud noises and chaos. Had she snapped once again and harmed the others just so she could sleep? She couldn’t be sure . . . but she had to find out.

Her palms were tingling and slick with perspiration as she placed them on the doorknob. With her heart pounding in her chest, she slowly turned the knob and peered through the crack. Other than the flickering fluorescent lights over the nurses’ station, everything was still.

She stepped into the hall, looking left then right. The corridors were empty. Moving cautiously toward the nurses’ station, she glanced over the counter. No one—no one was there. She moved behind it, venturing into the supervisor’s office which was dark except for a handful of monitors displaying the common rooms and the rooms of the more violent patients. All the images were alike in one way—the rooms depicted were devoid of their usual inhabitants.

She suddenly bolted down the hall, throwing one door open after the other, finding each room empty. They had all disappeared without a trace. She was utterly alone.

Finally stopping at the main entrance to the building, she sank to the floor in desperation. She stared through the glass façade into the vacant parking lot and trembled convulsively. She couldn’t go out there. Looking over her shoulder, she felt just as intimidated by the vast emptiness within. It reminded her of something the therapist once said: that it was clear she was just as afraid of herself as she was of others, and that sooner or later, she would need to decide which fear posed the greater threat.

It seemed that time had come.

Oh, Those Caring Nuns!

It is really a surprise that I don’t have a complex.  I should certainly suffer from abandonment issues.  I mean, I always thought I was a cute kid.  But if that was the case, how could I be so forgettable?  You learned last week about my parents leaving me behind at the park when I was nine.  Well, apparently, that was the beginning of a trend; only this time I was forgotten by a nun of all people.  You would think a nun would have your back, but I guess not.

I was thirteen.  We had moved back to Virginia and I was an eighth grader at Portsmouth Catholic High School.  The school was home to about 300 students in grades 8-12.  I loved it! I made some really great friends there, and we were all one big happy family.  We looked out for each other, got into mischief together, and sometimes played pranks on each other.  This was also the year that I had two of my favorite teachers:  Mrs. Bates for Math and Mrs. Hernandez for English.  It was Mrs. Hernandez who developed my love of English and inspired me to become an English teacher.  Life was good!  However, there were still occasional moments of chaos.

The day of the incident was cold and I wasn’t feeling well.  Because our school was so small, we did not have a school nurse.  When students were ill, they were sent to Sister Mary Rose, who served as the guidance counselor/bookkeeper.  I’m not sure how old she really was, but she seemed to me to be about ninety.  She was very sweet and expressed great concern over the fact that I was feeling sick.  Rather than calling my mom and sending me home, she thought it might help to let me rest for a while.  I thought that sounded like a good idea, so she escorted me down the hall, unlocked a door, and ushered me into a small, dark room (really just a walk-in closet) which contained nothing but a cot.  She encouraged me to lie down and take a nap saying she would check on me in about an hour.

I woke a while later to the banging of lockers and thought it was the change of classes.  Yet when I poked my head out of the room, I discovered the noise was from the custodians cleaning up for the day.  School was over.  The busses and all the other students were gone.  Sister Mary Rose had forgotten all about me!  The custodians informed me that she was still in her office though and I should have her call my mom.

When I walked into her office, she was standing at a file cabinet with her back to me.  When she turned around and saw me, the shock was so great I thought she was going to drop dead of a heart attack.  I’m not sure who felt worse at that moment: me for scaring her or her for forgetting me.  We took turns apologizing, but my ordeal was not over just yet.  When she called my mom to inform her of what happened, she offered to take me to the convent until my mom could come get me.  The convent!  I know later in life I would tease my niece that she would be hidden away in a convent until we deemed her old enough to date, but this was real.  It was no laughing matter.  I was mortified.  What could I do though?  You simply did not say “no” to a nun.

The next hour of my life was spent sitting alone in the living room of the convent while the nuns gathered for evening prayers.  I suppose things could have been worse.  They could have made me participate in their evening prayer service.  Time ticked by so slowly as I stared out the window willing my mom’s car to come into focus.  It was one of the longest evenings of my life.  Needless to say, I never again reported to any teacher at the school that I was feeling sick.  Lesson learned!

Adventure is Calling: Summer Advice to Parents

I am definitely not the most adventurous individual, but sometimes ready or not, adventure taps you on the shoulder and says, “You’re up!”  Then again, maybe this is exactly the reason why I don’t seek out adventure.  Sometimes it leaves you a bit traumatized.

A few months before my tenth birthday, my family moved from Virginia to California.  Trust me when I say that my siblings and I were not in favor of the move.  There were tears and tantrums followed by a good deal of sulking.  None of us wanted to leave our friends because surely we would never make new ones. I was the youngest and leaving behind the only home I had ever known.  It might as well have been the end of the world.  Yes, I was a bit of a drama queen; thankfully, I have outgrown that flaw (for the most part).

Anyway, our arrival in California, after a five-day drive across country, coincided with a three-day Valenta family reunion.  I’m not sure what other family reunions are like, but ours are a pretty big deal.  My dad was one of thirteen kids, most of who grew up to have large families of their own.  Now I know I have a vivid imagination and I’ve never truly tried to tally up all of the cousins and second cousins, but I would say there were a few hundred people at the reunion, 95% of whom I had never met before.  It was a bit intimidating to arrive in a strange place and instantly be surrounded by so many strange people (Yes, I did mean to say “strange people” rather than just “strangers”).

One of the activities planned was a cookout and family softball game at the park about three miles from my Uncle Jerry’s house.  You know the saying, “Even the best laid plans go sideways”?  Well, this is where things went wrong . .  . at least for me and my cousin Shawna.  After watching the first few innings of the softball game, we got bored and decided to head to the playground.  We played on the swings and slides for maybe forty-five minutes, and then headed back to see if the game was almost over.  Much to our surprise, not only was the game over, but apparently, all of the festivities were over.   There wasn’t a soul left, aside from the two of us, on the ball field or at the picnic tables.  Yup, the parking lot was empty too.  My dad was military but unfortunately not marine because we had been left behind.  Keep in mind that I was nine and had only been in California for a couple of days.  I had absolutely no idea where we were or where my uncle’s house was in relation to the park.  This was also long before the age of cell phones.

After a moment of stunned silence followed immediately by sheer panic, we calmed down.  Thankfully, Shawna who was actually a few years younger than I was thought she knew the way home.  So here we go, the two of us walking along a main road on our three-mile trek, apparently of no concern to our parents or to those driving past us.  Eventually we made it to the dirt road and cow fields leading to my uncle’s house.  Though the house sat on a hill overlooking said cow fields, still no one seemed to notice us.  It wasn’t until we reached the last curve in the driveway that my mom let out a shriek as realization dawned.

To this day, my mom claims it was an honest mistake.  She had assumed that I was either with my dad or with Shawna’s parents.  Of course, they thought my mom had both of us.  And she wonders why even now, almost forty years later, I stick to her like glue.

So my advice to parents now that summer vacations are in full swing is to take a head count.  Whenever you load up the car, make sure all of your crew is accounted for . . . unless, of course, you secretly like traumatizing your children sending them forever into a panic whenever you leave their side.