Published in 2015 in Scribblers’ Cauldron, a writing journal edited by my friend, Sarah Hill. This piece reflects on the medical abuse I suffered as a child, and my attempt to confront it in adulthood by returning to the hospital where I was so badly mistreated
I always knew I would return.
In truth I already have, many times, in the unconscious hours of night. Distorted fragments of memory and imagination pulling me back in the false safety of sleep.
The desire to return is confusing and seems to confirm notions of my madness. Longing for the scene of my lost innocence is surely proof of my culpability in its destruction. My inherent need to be the focus of attention laid bare. Perhaps you were right all along.
For the first time in a decade I see the stone building on the hill: landmark of the city and my own before and after. In another lifetime I walked in one person, and crawled out another. I approach it now in the chill of an early spring evening, the darkness of night gathering like mist around me.
At last it is a real image before me: outside of my head rather than trapped within. Reality unmasks some of the tricks of memory, and it is disorientating to see vast rooms shrunk to claustrophobic proportions. I scan every detail with my eyes, wanting to remember correctly this time. Gripping on so that I might one day let go.
When the tears come they fall not from my eyes, but from a place so deep it cannot be named. A tide sweeping from the past and tossing my destroyed spirit like shingle. I collapse inwardly as I feel you pick me apart again. The coldness in your eyes and the contempt on your lips. My hope and my faith shredded in your hands. I started to die here, within these walls, when I was still a child. Now I die again in remembrance of that girl.
I started to die here, within these walls, when I was still a child. Now I die again in remembrance of that girl
I never expected to see you again, but to my shock you are here. While I recoil in alarm, you do not even recognise me. If I was ever a memory for you, it disappeared long ago. You see the grief blotching and soaking my skin, and I can tell that you want to comfort me. The old cloak of kindness with poison stitched into the lining. I want to take your comfort, like a starving man hungrily snatching crumbs from the one who left him destitute. I want to remind you of what you did to me and tell you that I still carry its crippling burden. I want you to finally understand and to set me free. But I turn away, knowing that for all the power you once had over me, my release does not lie within your hands.
I never want to leave. The force that drew me back here holds me powerfully. Broken, I feel I must stay forever, as if I can exist nowhere but the place where I was destroyed. If I waited long enough, could I find the missing parts of me and fuse them back together? Or would I be sitting beside my own grave: an eternal vigil for the person I might have been?
I leave only because I have to. It is fully dark outside, and the cold air stings my burning face. I have done what I set out to do, but there is no sense of triumph. The pain of my ripped soul seems greater than ever.
As the building on the hill slips out of sight, I can’t yet see the new landmark I have created: a tiny sapling taking root in the shadow of the past; a fragile, daring growth that will lean towards a light I can’t even see.
Without knowing it, I have begun to heal.