“Mother used to come pick me up after kindergarten and we would walk home hand in hand. No Matter how cold it was or how windy it was. Rain, shine, sleet, or snow. We would have had a skipping race all the way home. My smile only grew bigger as I saw the neighbors watching us. There were even some days when we would belt out off-tune songs and laugh so loud and laugh when anyone would turn and stare at us. Mother didn’t care, so neither did I. Before Mother opened the door, we would play a game. Everyday she would bake me a delicious snack and everyday I would have to guess what she made before she opened the door.” -Maria
“Well, are you going to just stand there?” Papa snaps at me. I struggle to find my footing at walk over to Papa. It is also hard to find my voice.
“Where…where are we going? Is something wrong?” Papa doesn’t answer, he only grunts. As every minute passed my fears grew. In our run down car I have to close my eyes to keep from throwing up. When I open my eyes we are at the hospital. My heart drops to my stomach. I imagine the worst things that have happened to Maria, but it is too hard so I stop and try to convince myself that it is as small as a broken bone. It doesn’t work. Every step across the parking lot felt like I had a stone attached to each ankle. Papa burst through the hospital’s front door. Every head turned to stare, so I ducked behind Papa not being able to stand all of the eyes burning into mine.
“Terrell and Helena Clark. Family of Maria Clark. We need to see her now,” Papa demanded. His face red and his fists clenched. There was something foreign in his face. At first I thought that it was anger, but I realized that I was wrong. It was fear. If Papa is afraid, then something must really be wrong. My heart stopped, then began fluttering very fast with the wings of many butterflies I felt like I was going to be sick.
“I’m sorry,” The nurse at the desk replied, “I would let you in, but Maria has specifically asked that no one sees her at the moment.” I couldn’t believe my ears. Why wouldn’t Maria want to see me? Is it my fault that she is here?
“I can’t believe this is happening again,” Papa murmurs under his breath. Could Papa have already tried to see Maria today? I could see a fat, hot tear roll down his cheek, burning a trail behind it. When he saw that I noticed he hurriedly wiped it away and turned his head to the outside activity. Why were we just sitting here when Maria denied us seeing her? Closing my eyes, I tried to erase the pain. I tried to forget that was happening. I tried to trick myself that it was just a nightmare and that when I woke up everything would be alright.
When I opened my eyes again I realized that I must have fallen asleep. The bright sunlight that was there had turned to a pale light that calmed the earth for sleep; the busy activity in the lobby had turned into a peaceful place for mourning and anxious friends and family. When I turned to look for Papa in the chair next to me I found it empty. Immediately I began to panic. I fly out of my chair not knowing what to do. Why would Papa do this? He might lose one daughter, why would he want to lose the other as well? Maybe I was wrong about him. Maybe he really doesn’t love us at all. After all these years trying to convince myself that Papa really does love us somewhere deep in his heart, I was wrong in the end. I try not to think about what I may have done to push him away. I try not to let my wonder about what his new life might be like.
“Stop crying like such a baby, Helena.” I hadn’t realized the tears streaking down my face. When I look up at the familiar voice I realize that it is Papa. A rush of relief falls over me. Instantly I begin to dry my eyes, not bothering with an explanation. He decided to go back to the nurse at the desk and try to get to Maria one last time. As I watch, I think that the conversation is not in Papa’s favor that we will see Maria tonight, so I begin to gather our stuff preparing to leave. I watched in surprise as the nurse threw her hands up in the air in defeat and motioned for us to follow.
As I walked over to Papa and the nurse it felt as if I was walking on clouds. My heart began to flutter again, but this time out of excitement. The nurse leads us out of the waiting room and into a clean, polished, long hallway. There are so many rooms and other hallways branching off of the main hallway. I never could have imagined that there were so many hurting people. Within my own world I was always the one who hurt the most. It is strange to now look into each room and see someone who has their own story that is so full of pain and hurt.
We reach room 230 and the face that I see through the window is one that I know and love. The nurse quietly opens the door, but it is not quite enough because Maria awakens. I can tell that something is not right, besides the fact that she needs to be in a hospital. Being in the hospital has made her weaker from all of the stress and worry, she must not be sleeping well. When she sees me she tries to smile, but I can tell that it hurts her. It takes all of my strength not to run over to the hospital bed and hug my sister tightly and to never let go. I’m afraid if I do that then that’ll break her bones. I gently sit down on the edge of the bed and give her a hug. A careful hug. When I sit back up, I look into her eyes and I can tell that she is holding back tears. “It’s alright,” I whisper. Maria nods and tries to stop the tears, but there is no stopping them. This time she is the one to wrap her arms around me in a hug, but I hold her tightly this time. From this moment on our roles are switched. I am no longer the baby sister that needs all the comfort, I now need to be the one to give it. I only hope that I am strong enough.
Looking back at Papa I see him resting his large frame on the doorsill. My guess is that he has been standing there the whole time. I lie down next to Maria and think back to this morning. It feels like so long ago. I think about Miss Wilson and how she said that she truly cares. I wonder if Maria will die tonight. Would anyone but me care? Does Papa feel this way? Feeling like the world keeps moving, but it leaves you behind.
“Helena. Helena, wake-up” someone whispers in my ear. My first thought is that it is Maria, but when my eyes flutter open I am surprised by the gentleness in Papa’s voice. I must have fallen asleep. The outside is midnight dark now. The soft stars and bright moon light the way and keep the scary dark from taking over. Though, where did Papa sleep? Did he go home and sleep there? I looked around the room and saw a chair that looked like someone slept in it. He helps me to carefully lift Maria’s arms off of me so that I can get up. We walk to the door, but I quickly turn around and run to Maria. I gently plant a kiss on her hand. Papa and I walk out of the hospital with him leading me following several feet behind, still afraid of him.
As we walk down the hallway the only noise is the heavy pounding of our feet. Then Papa turns around, “Why? Why could you do this, Helena?” His sweet voice from when he woke me up is now long gone.
“What happened? How is this my fault?” I manage to squeak out. I think about how I have already let Maria down by not standing up to Papa.
“Oh, don’t act like you don’t know! This is all your fault and you know it!” I could feel the tears bubbling over, but I couldn’t let them spill. Taking a deep breath to compose myself I try to swallow my tears.
“Look, Papa.” He stops and turns to look at me. Obviously, surprised by my authoritative tone, and truthfully, so am I. “Even if it was my fault, I don’t…I don’t…think that…that…that you can blame me…and…and get mad at me without…even telling me what happened.” My confidence begins to evaporate quickly and I cannot help but burst into tears. I can tell that Papa is embarrassed to be with me, blubbering like this in public.
All he whispers is, “Just stop crying and let’s go.” I try to stop, but it is impossible. The tears keep coming, I just can’t stop. Thankfully, I was able to stop the sobbing and the noisy hiccups, so they became silent tears and Papa couldn’t hear them and yell at me again. We made our way to the car. I don’t want to sit in the front seat next to Papa so instead I yank on the door for the backseat. No such luck, it won’t open. Not wanting Papa to think of me as weak for not being able to open a car door I reluctantly open the front passenger door. Careful not to look at Papa as I slide into my seat. My face is sticky from the tears, but at least it is dry. I’m out of tears.
The car hasn’t started, we aren’t moving. I look over at Papa as if to ask why we haven’t gone anywhere, but decide that it would be best not to. Neither of us were in great moods. When we get home, neither one of us is still talking so I decide to go to bed without any dinner. Between breakfast and lunch today I am fine.
I don’t wake up until mid-morning. The light floods in from my cracked and filthy window. I begin to panic when I realize that I have overslept. Why didn’t Maria wake me up? Now we’re both going to be late for school. As I sit up all of yesterday’s events come back to me. How could all of that really only been one day. Looking at the clock I decode that it is not worth going into school today, so instead I figure that it will be good to look around the house in case I ever need a place to hide from Papa. First, I decide to go look in Maria’s room. I can’t stand it. There is too much of her in that room. I decide that I need some fresh air. I go for a walk outside and before I know it I am near the hospital.
When I get to the hospital I take a deep breath before entering. As I push open the door, I know that I am in luck. With all the people moving around it had to be visiting hours. I walked up to the desk and asked the nurse if I would be allowed to see my sister. The kind nurse turned to her computer and asked me what my sister’s name is.
“Maria Clark. I know what room she is in, room 230. I was already here last night with my father.”
“Oh, yes. I remember hearing about you. News spreads very quickly here. You were the ones who…”
Cutting her off, not wanting to hear who we were known as, I said, “yes, that was me and my father. Sorry if we caused too much trouble.” With that she lead me to room 230.
Butterflies beating hard in my stomach as I wasn’t sure if Maria would want to see me. The nurse was very kind. She grabbed my hand confidently and led me to room 230. I could not wait to see my sister. Oh, I hope she is alright. I do miss her greatly and I’m not sure if I will be able to survive Papa at home without her help and guidance.
Room 230. Here it is. The nurse opened the door for me and I let go of her hand as I flew over to Maria’s bedside. She looked worse, not better. I knew that it was a bad idea from the start to come here. Oh why had I even bothered to skip school. The only person that I was tricking was myself. I looked back towards the door to see if the nurse was still there. I was hoping that she would be able to comfort me, all I wanted was for the touch of human skin, and not the beating of a fist. At the moment I needed a sturdy hand, a rock, that would tell me against all odds, that yes, it would be alright. I turned back to Maria. Her eyes were open, just barely, but they were. A slight smile spread across her face as she took my face in. I couldn’t help myself any longer, the tears started and I couldn’t stop them. I felt like the blubbering baby that Papa said I was.
“Why are you crying, Helena?” Maria was able to croak out. Though, when I looked in her eyes, she too was crying. “You are the foundation of the Clark family now. Even if I do make it out, you will be stronger than me. You must stay strong. Not only for yourself, but for me as well. Can’t you do that, Helena? For me?” With that breath my sister fell back into a deep sleep. What was I supposed to say to that? I nodded, but I was not too sure about it. When I couldn’t stand to see Maria bandaged up any longer I left, quietly.
Surprisingly, I had stopped crying when Maria fell back asleep. Maybe it was because I was all out of tears, or maybe it was just because I made a promise to Maria and I couldn’t let her down. Whatever it was, when I left the room, they all came flooding back. I started to run. My body kept running into walls and abandoned carts as my vision blurred over. I managed to find my way blindly back to the waiting lobby. I was almost out of the door when I ran into someone who blocked my path. I kept my head down, too embarrassed to look him in the eyes, and mumbled an apology.
Deciding to stay in the lobby so that I wouldn’t have to face Papa at home with my blotchy face, I turned around and calmly walked over to an open seat far away from anyone else. As I sat there drying my eyes I began to wonder. What had happened to Maria that she had to be put into the hospital? What had made Papa so emotional last night when we first tried to visit Maria? What did he mean ‘I won’t let it happen again?’ Was he referring to Mother? How did she die? I had to find this out. The problem was how? Papa would never tell me, even if I could find him sober enough, and Maria, well she is too hurt. I couldn’t ask her of that, it will only make her pain worsen. I get up to leave now that I have calmed down, but in the corner I see Papa. Papa! What is he doing here? What if he sees me and gets mad at me for finding out that I skipped school. Will he even care? I didn’t know, all I knew was that I had to get home before he saw me there.
I tried to be as quiet as I could be as I stood up and walked along the wall, trying so hard to blend in so that Papa couldn’t see me. Scarcely breathing as to not make any noise, I made it to the door and ran. I ran as fast as I could, I didn’t dare stop for anything. I was too worried that Papa would make it home before me and I would have to explain where I was to him. Luckily, the hospital was in an area that I knew well. It was by the bar that Papa went to every so often. My feet knew the way, so I just let them carry me. I push open the front door to a quiet a house.
Nothing lives here, nothing wants to. It is too dreary, especially without Maria to brighten things up with her positivity. I trudge my way through the high piles of trash over to our dingy couch that was rescued from the dumpster. The first day of school seems so long ago at this point, I wonder if anyone misses me at this point. I bet Amika does, though she has probably made better friends by now and has probably forgotten my name by now. What about Miss Wilson? Does she miss me? If she truly meant what she said, then maybe she misses me.
I began to picture Miss Wilson. Her lovely face and kind eyes. I wish that she were my mother, then everything would be different. My memory brings up her face when she sat talking to me at lunch. She was disappointed in me, none of the teachers have ever been disappointed in me before. Then, I began to wonder. What would it be like if I went back to school. I could say that I just got sick and we couldn’t pay our phone bills, so it become disconnected and that was why I couldn’t call in and say I was sick. Miss Wilson might believe that. No, I mustn’t lie to her. I can’t imagine the look of disappointment she would have on her face if she found out that it was lying. It might just be better not to go back to school, not now and not ever. Besides, with Maria in the hospital who else will take care of the house? Making up my decision of not going back to school I decide that it would be best if I prepared the house for Papa’s return from the hospital, right after I take a short nap.
My eyes flutter open. “Oh, no,” I think.
“‘Oh, no,’ is right,” a voice boomed. Okay, maybe I accidently said it. “Why were you at the hospital?” I couldn’t bring myself to lift my gaze to meet his bullets of eyes. “I demand an answer!” His yelling is getting louder and I become more afraid.
“You are the foundation of the Clark family now. Even if I do make it out, you will be stronger than me, You must stay strong. Not only for yourself, but for me as well. Can’t you do that, Helena? For me?” Maria’s words from the hospital echo inside of me.
Suddenly a rush of energy surges through my body. I can’t let this man, even if he is my papa, shove me around. I must stand up to him. I must be strong. “Why were you at the hospital today? Why do you suddenly care about us? It is not like you have cared about what I do or where I am! Why don’t we just keep it that way?” It comes out stronger than I expected it. I ran off to my little room on the upstairs and left my Papa in surprise at my outburst of anger. No one has dared to do that, not to Papa, but I have just done it. The weakest of the bunch and I have just given Papa a taste of his own medicine.
All the strength that I used to stand up to Papa has left me now and in its place has left me fatigued. I don’t bother about finding something for dinner. I am on an emotional rollercoaster that has left no room to be hungry. I decide to turn the lights out, even though it is only 8:00. Papa is still sitting on the couch, too stunned at my confidence to move. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow. Tomorrow was the day that I would find out all the answers to my questions.
I tried to fall asleep, but I couldn’t. My mind was racing too fast, I could hardly keep up with it. I tossed and turned for what felt like hours. At one point I saw Papa go over to Maria’s door across the hall. It looked like he was about to open the door, but decided not to and instead came over to my room. I instantly pretended that I was asleep. He looked in my room, grumbled, then left for his room shaking his head. I couldn’t help myself any longer, I let myself cry, and before I knew it, sunlight was flooding my face. I must have cried myself to sleep in the end. I waited a moment to see if I could hear Papa moving. I needed to know if it was safe for me to leave yet. I couldn’t risk running into him at the hospital again today. Not with what I was planning to do.
After listening to silence for quite some time I got up, dressed myself quickly and left for the hospital. I walked slowly this time. Enjoying my walk in the beautiful fall-morning weather. I could almost trick myself that it had all been a dream, that I was not indeed Helena. Or at least wasn’t this Helena who was poor, had no mother, a sister in the hospital, and a drunk father most of the time. It was only when the chilling wind began to make it through my threadbare jacket that I came back into reality and I began to walk briskly to the hospital. By the time that I made it to the hospital I was so cold and tired from the wind and walk that all I wanted to do was go back home and sleep the afternoon away. However, I knew that I needed to do this today. Tomorrow had other plans already. It was now or never.
I pushed open the heavy doors of the hospital and walked calmly, but confidently over to the desk. I was hoping to sound confident when I opened my mouth, but I began to stutter and I started to sound like the little, scared kid that I was. It didn’t matter though. The nurse that I was talking to was the same one that lead me to Maria yesterday. She came around from the desk to put an arm around my shoulders. I wanted nothing more at that moment than to break down and start crying, but I knew that if I started then I would never stop and I did not have time for that. Not today.
Taking a deep breath I was able to compose myself and ask the nurse what I had been practicing to myself on the way over here. “Listen,” I said the nurse, “I was wondering if I could have some answers.”
“I’m not sure, Sweetheart. We can’t just give out information to anybody. It depends on what you want answers to. And only if you give me one first. Why aren’t at school? And why are you here by yourself?” the nurse said holding me at an arms length to take in my whole appearance.
“They allow personal days at school, and I decided to take one because my sister is in the hospital. I’m here by myself because my papa is at work right now, and I don’t have a mother.”
“Please, this is really important and this is the only place that I will be able to get these answers. Please help me.”
“I never said no, Pumpkin. All I said was that I am not sure how much I can tell you, and I advise you not to get your hopes up. Now what are your questions?” I told her everything. A bit more than I had planned for, but once I started I couldn’t stop. It had all come rushing out. When I was done she said, “Oh, Sugar. I am so sorry,” and she took me into a hug and didn’t let go. I usually don’t like people giving me nicknames, especially not ones like ‘Sugar’ and ‘Pumpkin,’ but when the nurse did it all I felt was warmth when she called me those things.
She finally let go and I must admit, it felt much better to have told someone my entire story. It was like the weight of the world was lifted off of my shoulders. Standing up she walked over to a door that said ‘staff only,’ but before she entered she motioned for me to come and follow her. Carefully, I stood up as if I was a newborn deer testing the strength of my own legs and deciding if they would hold me or if I would fall, collapsed, upon them. They supported me, but just barely. My legs were shaking as I walked over to join the nurse. During the whole time that I was telling the story I was doing two things. The first was crying my eyes out, and the second was preparing myself that I would not indeed find the answers today. Now, I try to keep my hopes down if it is not what I think, but I cannot help but feel my excitement rise within me as I go to the nurse hoping that she will lead me to the answers.
“Okay, if you and I are going to do this together we need to know each other’s names. Yours is Helena, but I have failed to yet mention mine. My name is Themba, it means faith, trust, and hope. I hope that you can trust me and that you remain strong in faith and hope.” I already had a strong liking to Nurse Themba. I could tell that with her help I could be very successful in finding my answers. I followed her into the ‘staff only’ hallway where she lead us through many twists and turns. Finally, we stopped a door that was labeled as archives. “This is where we keep all of the medical records that have not been used in many years,” Nurse Themba explains. I realized that we were there because this is where there would be any medical records of my mother.
I tried to open the door, but when I turned the handle it didn’t open. “Oh, no,” I thought. We won’t be able to get in, now I will never know what happened happened to Mother. “Calm down, Helena,” it just needs to be unlocked. Nurse Themba held up a shiny key to let me know that it was alright and that I should calm down. Handing me the key, Nurse Themba tells me to open the door. I slide the key right into the hole and my heart drops down to my stomach as I turn the handle and push the door open. Once the door is open Nurse Themba slides past me and goes straight over to the shelves. I don’t know what to do so I stay where I am and wait for Nurse Themba to find what we need. She calls me over. “This is it,” I think, “she has found what we’re looking for.” I can hardly breath as I make my way over to where Nurse Themba stands.
“What was your mother’s full name, Darling?”
“Naomi Clark. I’m not sure what her middle name was though, or her maiden name. I hope that we won’t need that.” I said a bit nervously.
“Let’s hope so, but I think that Naomi is a common enough name that we will be able to find her.” I follow Nurse Themba down the aisles as she looks for the row that will hold my mother’s information. We pass by the aisles marked ‘A’ and then ‘B’ the aisles must be marked by the first letter of the patient’s last last name. Next is the row that we were looking for. The aisles marked with a ‘C’.
“Here it is, Sweetie. After you,” Nurse Themba says allowing me to take the lead on the expedition that will reveal part of my past. I look at the neatly labeled cabinets. ‘Ca’ followed by ‘Ce’ then ‘Ch’ I keep walking down the long path that seems to never end. Finally, shelve ‘Cl’ I open the filing cabinet labeled with the first two letters of my last name. My mother’s file is close to the front and when I finally pull it out after looking at it for a long time I let go of a breath that I didn’t know I was holding.
I hand it to Nurse Themba willing her with my mind to open it for me, but she pushes it back to me as if to say that I am the only one who should read it. I bite my lips and shake my lowered head. Tears begin to fall. I feel like a giant standing here. I hold so much information in my hands, but I can’t make myself look at what the folder has to offer.