She dreams of escaping on a 2-wheel bicycle. A big girl bike. Perhaps to the place she sees on the television set tuned to one of 3 channels to, “Lassie Come Home.” The rabbit ears on the set adjusted for the best reception. She sits with her legs tucked under her, sitting about a 12 inches away from the tv. The sound turned down low. She is told to sit there and enjoy the show, her baby sister has been put to bed for the night and quiet is a must in the small home. Her hair is brushed neatly and smells of Johnsons baby shampoo. The night gown softly drapes over her knees. The show distracts her from the events of the day. She cranks her head back, totally immersed in the program. The dog, Lassie, is barking at the little boy and jumping up and down with joy. Inside the small rambler is still stifling and sticky.
It was a hot, hot summer day in 1966. One of those days where you could fry an egg on the hood of the red station wagon. Watch it bubble and crinkle around the edges in less than a minute. The preschooler had been outside with her sisters in the blistering sun. The preschooler is the oldest of the three. Her brown hair, lightened by the summer sun, is tied back in a pony tail. Short bangs. She wears a sleeveless dress and white tennies, dirty from being outside every day. One untied because she hasn’t learned to tie her own shoes quiet yet. She’s 5 years old. Her sister just turned 4 and is dressed in red and navy blue striped shirt with red pants and the same shoes, 2 sizes smaller. Mom says, “Sit down, I have a special treat for you.” The step on the side of the house is hot on her bare legs. She senses the treat isn’t something so special. But she is starving. And hot. Her skin feels hot to the touch and her sisters are both flushed. Mom says, “My mom made this for me when I was little! It’s called sugar water bread.”
Mom hands the little girls each a piece of bread that has been softened with water and sprinkled with sugar. Mom has a remarkable talent for making everything seem fun and exciting. But today was different. No amount of sugar can sweeten the events of the day. Today was the day of the visit to Dr. Hoo.
The family plans to move to a new neighborhood, close to a school where the little girl will start Kindergarten in the fall. And according to regulations, a school check up and vaccinations are needed before starting school. It had to be done. Life is busy. Money is tight. Doctor visits are rare except when vaccinations are necessary or a new baby has arrived.
Mom drives the three girls to the doctor office located in a busy part of town with large, brick homes. She parks the station wagon on the street in front of the home. The doctor has his office in the lower part of this large home. Baby sister is fussy in the heat. She plays with the keys from the car. The preschooler quietly gets out of the car. Having been told, “Be good and do what the doctor says,” several times in the car on the way. Mom, baby sister and little sister walk slowly up the stairs. They enter the screen door, which creaks loudly. Heavy.
They enter the office. It’s hot. Slightly to the left is a receptionist desk. The woman, who has worked for the doctor for only 3 weeks sits behind the desk. A desk fan oscillating slowly left to right. Left to right. Useless on a 98 degree day. To the right of the desk a heavy wood door stained dark brown. She peers in the darkened room, which seems darker than the waiting room. She smells something that reminds her of the stuff mom uses when the kitchen floor is mopped. Pine disinfectant. But there is an unfamiliar smell – something old and rotten. It reminds her of the time when her dad found a dead mouse under the kitchen sink. Four straight-back chairs set along the wall in a waiting area to the right of the heavy door.
“Hello! We’ve been expecting you.” the reception says with a grin. She wipes the back of her neck with her hand. “I’m ready for rain. Anything to cool off.” Baby sister is fussy. Little sister sees a small box of toys under the table next to the chairs and goes to it. Curious as always. Mom sighs. Relieved the 3-year-old has found something to play with so she can soothe the baby who has refused to nap in the heat for the past few days.
Mom looks at the receptionist with tired eyes. “We have an appointment with the doctor for a school check up and shots.” Her voice is quiet, she hasn’t slept well in the heat and is feeling like she might be coming down with a fever, her throat scratchy. She’s more distracted than usual, having felt a bump in the roof of her mouth this morning while brushing her teeth.
The doctor steps out from inside the exam room. The heavy wooden door creaking loudly. “Oh, you have your hands full, why don’t I take your daughter in while you sit out here with the two little ones? She’ll be fine with me.” Mom hesitates. Looks at her oldest daughter who is looking up at her with pleading eyes that say, “Please don’t leave me.” Mom sighs and then agrees to let her daughter in the exam room alone with the doctor.
30 minutes later, her daughter changed forever. Mom wishes she had gone in the exam room.
At home, the preschooler sits mesmerized by the television show. Mom talks quietly in the kitchen with Dad who has returned home from a long day. The quiet talk turns to murmurs with an occasional accusatory, “Why did you leave her alone with him?” Mom runs out of the kitchen and down the hall. Baby sister is crying, standing up in her crib.
The summer heat has seared the events into the essence of the family. Now and forever running from the truth.