copyright © 2004 by Jesse Blaine

I was so Glad, Part 1: Lost Along the Way

by Cool Jesse

When I was young, I spent a fair amount of time in the Mental Health ward at St. Joseph’s hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. My mother’s reasoning for keeping her first-born, four-year-old son in a hospital an hour away from everyone I knew was fear. Or rather, fear was her motive. Her reasoning was that I would be better protected and thereby free from my father’s attempts to kidnap me. Should he ever decide he wanted to. Which he didn’t. He was refused visitation rights by the court and that was that, but my mother, fearful, insisted upon putting me in the "Safe Place" as my family euphemistically referred to it on my weekend visits.

Many a fond (and early) memory of mine exists in that place lost between Harlan, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska. Sunday nights. My mother and me driving across the beautiful Interstate 80. That stretch of highway between home and a safe place is the most beautiful thing my young eyes had ever seen. All lit up with head lights and tail lights in the dark. It was never an uncertain or tragic journey. Rather, it was expected and routine, but still beautiful. So incredibly beautiful. Just watching my mother drive as the endless lights of I-80 flashed by me on my way back to what I’d come to know as normal life.

I can’t recall ever questioning my mother about why I had to live in the safe place while everyone else I knew lived back in Harlan. Perhaps I did. I cannot be sure as my memories of this time are vague at best. But I do remember some events strong enough to believe I really did experience them.

I remember going to play miniature golf, I always hung out with the older boys. To be more accurate, the older boys looked out for me, took care of my like a brother. We were playing miniature golf, and Shawn (I believe that to be his name though I am not sure. I do know he was quite tall and had long blonde hair. He was white.) took me and my two dollars in a tiny yellow envelope, sealed, with my name and the amount inside written on it into the gift shop where I proceeded to purchase a small American flag keychain as was my want. For whatever reason, I remember having a profound attachment to that keychain. I loved it so. Was proud of it. Sometimes this memory will replay in my head over and over as if I had lived the same moment a million times before it made an impact.

I remember my family visiting, in the evening, at the tail end of a shopping excursion they had undertook, and saying their good byes in an auditorium where we learned from the nurse that as my family had brought me my favorite: McNuggets from McDonald’s, I had missed the hospital’s dinner: Brussel sprouts. That was the night I learned that my brother had a different Go-Bot than me; they told me his was too simple for me and that I wouldn’t want one like it because it was for babies, but I did. I really wanted one just like it.

I remember my roommate didn’t like me very much and he had the cool fire truck Transformer which I was never allowed to touch. Ever. But I did. I touched it when he was not in the room and I was certain he would not be returning for some time.

I remember the discovery that was Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are Discovering it for the first time and falling in love.

I remember an earache which caused the nurse and my mom to enlist the help of the big black boy who took especially good care of me (I wish I could remember his name as he was my best friend in the hospital and so selfless in his devotion to me) to get me a pillow without down — I was allergic — from the top shelf of the closet.

I remember playing board games with my aunts Cathy and Colleen in the afternoons and then lying down to take a nap with them when they would visit. They were young and would visit me often.

I remember Pee Wee, another black boy, was always mean and cranky to everyone but me. I wish I could remember that other boy’s name. Wish I could let him know I haven’t forgotten his kindness.

I remember Shawn playfully begging my mom to allow him to take me home with him forever. They were good boys; they looked out for me.

Perhaps my most vivid memory, though, is of the morning I forgot to change out of my Snoopy pajama top. I discovered this while standing in the line for breakfast. The head guy was holding his hand up, yelling, "Silence!" repeatedly. And I looked down only to realize I hadn’t fully changed out of my pajamas. I was instantly upset. Demanding that I be allowed to return to my room and change. The nurse was very kind, telling me she rather liked Snoopy and no one could tell that it wasn’t a regular shirt. Believing her, I ceased my demands and went into eat breakfast, making sure to change my shirt immediately upon my return to my room just in time for another visit from my aunts.

But mostly I remember the way my mother looked driving my back on Sunday nights and those lights flashing by my window. Everything was beautiful then.

And to be perfectly honest, I sort of miss it, the regularity of my life.


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