As soon as Bruce got home from work the next day we headed to Columbia Children’s. While he drove we tried to review and recall everything we learned the previous day. If we knew all the information well, then we would be more prepared for what was ahead. At least that was our assumption.
I purchased a booster seat for our car earlier in the day, and it was in the back seat even though we knew Lilly wouldn’t be coming home with us yet. She had been at the hospital for eight days and wasn’t ready to be released, and we planned on visiting her daily until she was discharged into our care.
While she was still in the hospital, we hurriedly painted a main floor room yellow. We chose it because it was by the kitchen, and our bedroom was across the hall from it. It was the most logical location for keeping an eye on the little “angel.”
All those plans and nervous thoughts were coming out in our conversation during that thirty-minute drive to the hospital. After the car was parked, we took an elevator to her floor where we were granted prior clearance to gain admittance. We walked into a large room that had lots of stuffed green chairs in groupings, and a handful of people visiting their much older children.
We would soon find out what Lilly looked like, but it crossed my mind how we would appear to her. At the time I was forty-two and Bruce was forty-six. I’m medium build with brown hair and glasses and Bruce shaves his head, is six feet tall and weighs about one hundred eighty pounds. I hoped that we would appear likeable to Lilly and reminded Bruce to smile.
It was easy to figure out which child in the ward was the one we wanted to see, because she was the only little girl there. When I first saw her, she was running around in a rumpled set of blue hospital-issued pajamas. White cloth tape was wound around her waist over the pajamas. The nurse explained that the tape was required because she would strip naked without it. Whoa. As we settled into a couple of once-beautiful upholstered chairs we observed her.
She looked as if she was in preschool –age four maybe, but never six. Such a little figure in a psychiatric ward. Her tiny body appeared sturdy, and she had hair almost the same color as mine. It was just below her chin and very tangled, covering some of her face. She sucked on her thumb and crawled under the tables and flitted about the room. We noticed she paused occasionally and bit her fingernails and toenails. She glanced over at us only a few times that night.
The second, third, and fourth days visiting her were easier on us because we were not as nervous. Lilly spent most of her time crawling around the large room while pretending to be a cat. She would go up to just about anyone and “meow.” Right after the meek mewing sound she would let loose an authentic, sinister-sounding snarl, startling anyone nearby who’d never heard it before, and she took great pleasure at their surprise.
With each visit she looked at us a bit more, and I noticed her eyes were an intense blue, yet somehow dull looking. We’d smile and try to interact with her, but her behavior was distant most of the time. Finally on the third visit she came up to me and stood there in the wrinkled and taped gown with her thumb in her mouth. Those empty eyes were locked on mine as she removed the thumb and asked, “Are you going to be my Mommy?”
I smiled and answered “Yes,” and she was gone before any more could be said.
What a mess of a little kid.
That was when I first saw a few freckles across her little cheeks. I was starting to feel like her mother in a small way, and the thought of working with the little urchin intrigued me.
Before we left for our fifth and final trip to the hospital, we put Baler and Peek in the basement. It was roughly furnished and was to become their second home. The space had an area rug and plenty of light coming in so we felt it would be a great place to keep them safe. Yikes! While we’re trying to save the life of a little girl we also have to save the lives of our cats.
I looked once more into the little bedroom by the kitchen. The fresh new paint was an inviting shade of butter yellow. There was an off-white day bed with a pretty pink and white comforter on it, a four-drawer chest, a white-wicker toy box, and lace curtains on a large 4 x 5 foot window. It had a roller blind at the top to pull down in the evenings. I’d painted the unfinished wood floor cream, and we placed a light-colored area rug in the center. On one of the walls hung a couple of white-framed pictures with cute little Beatrice Potter bunnies, matted in purple. The room was adorable and I couldn’t believe that we completed it in less than a week. We were ready for Lilly Angel.
When we got to the nurses’ station, her belongings were behind the counter. A worker brought her out to us already zipped to the chin in a purple heavy winter coat. There was a plastic bag in Lilly’s hand that held art-therapy papers and a red, green, and yellow stuffed parrot. Another plastic bag was handed over the counter to us. It contained clothing items, toiletries, and some wrinkled cut-out magazine pictures of animals and junk foods. Bruce took the five prescriptions that needed filled at the hospital pharmacy before we could leave.
We signed some paperwork and left that floor with two bags and a new fourteen-day daughter who was quiet, sucking her thumb, and acted as if she didn’t want to let us out of her sight.
She chewed on her fingernails during the twenty minute wait at the pharmacy. I smiled and reassured her that we’d soon be on our way. I saw that her nails were bleeding in places, and she was obviously overly warm from wearing her zipped coat indoors.
I bent toward her and gently asked, “Lilly, would you like to take your coat off until we’re ready to leave?”
She shook her head once as she put her thumb in her mouth and turned her head away from me.
Suddenly very tired, I straightened up and walked over to some chairs and sat down. I could have cried right then and there if I had not willed myself not to. What kinds of things must have happened to this six-year-old to make her afraid to be left behind by people she didn’t even know?
We finally left the hospital and went to the car where Bruce buckled her into the new booster seat. Her bags were placed beside her, and we began a nervous drive home. I put Disney sing-a-long music in and Bruce whistled and sand in a gentle, calming way. I don’t know if it helped her or not, but it sure calmed me.
After the thirty-minute “forever trip” we pulled in our driveway. My heart pounded and I told myself that she was probably more scared than I was. We got out in the garage and Bruce handed the bags to me as he went around and unbuckled her.
I went into the kitchen from our back door first, with Lilly following, but not too closely. Bruce shut the door and walked on through the kitchen to let Torie, our youngest daughter, know that we were home. As soon as the slim, blonde teen came into the kitchen to greet us, Lilly ran in fright into the nearby den. I looked at Torie and shrugged my shoulders. “It’s okay,” I said, knowing Lilly could hear me. “This is Torie, one of our daughters.”
Torie understood the timing wasn’t right and turned to leave the room. “I’ll see you later, Lilly! I’m leaving now.”
As soon as she left, Lilly came out and put that thumb in her mouth again.
I got down on my knees in front of her and said, “Here, let me help you get your coat off. I’ll hang it in your room on a hook. You can see it in a minute.” I removed her coat, picked up the bags, and led the way the short distance to the yellow room. I placed the bags on the floral comforter and hung her coat.
She followed and scanned the room with those lifeless eyes. She still had not spoken.
I took out the parrot and asked, “Would you like to put this on your bed?” When she didn’t answer I placed the parrot on her pillow. “What’s his name?” The thumb came out of her mouth and she picked up the parrot.
“Her name is Polly,” she said as she examined the small room looking at everything with those eyes that seemed full of nothingness.
Or maybe numbness?
She bent over the wicker toy box and rifled through the odds and ends of toys in it. There was a plastic model horse, a few Boyd’s Bears wearing clothes, four brightly colored foam balls, an Etch-a-Sketch, and other interesting playthings we had gathered up.
Bruce put a keyed lock at the top of the staircase to the second floor. Our new visitor didn’t need access to the three bedrooms and a bath, until we felt she could be trusted. Likewise for obvious reasons she would not be shown the basement. It also had a door at the top of the stairs and a hook-lock at the top.
It was getting late and bedtime beckoned, so I led her on a tour of the main floor: bathroom, living room, our room, the kitchen and den, all mostly decorated in different colors of blue and white with white lace curtains.
Afterwards I went into her room and got the foam balls. “Lilly, come play with me in the living room.”
During our play I was able to see that she had all her baby teeth, and quite an overbite, which was probably from sucking her thumb.
After a while I announced, “I’m too tired to cook tonight, so I’m going to get you a bowl of Cocoa Puffs if you’re hungry.”
Lilly jumped up quickly and ran to the kitchen table. She gobbled up three bowls of cereal and swallowed her evening medications using the chocolate-flavored milk left in the bowl. She appeared exhausted too, and so I took her to the bathroom to get ready for bed.
“Here are some pretty pink pj’s, and I’ll go get your toothbrush out of your bag.”
I left to get them and a pull-up from a package purchased a few days before. Some children in foster care needed pull-ups, and she was among the small group that did. She would not have any bathroom privacy at our house. Doris and Kathi had warned us to keep an eye on her every minute, so bathroom duty fell to me. I helped her get the pull-up on and buttoned the pajama top.
She slowly brushed her teeth at the sink, too short to see herself in the mirror above it. After rinsing her toothbrush, she placed it on the counter and lifted her sleepy face to mine.
“Come on, I’ll tuck you in.”
I pulled down the covers. Clutching Polly, she rolled away from me. The thumb went in her mouth and her eyes closed.
I said, “Now I lay me down to sleep …” but she was asleep before I finished. I glanced back at her for a moment before I left. Nestled in the bed and sucking her thumb, she looked so sweet and peaceful. Was it possible that this lovely child tried to do serious harm to pets?
Chasing Lilly, by Nealie Rose (Copyrighted material)
Paperback, Curriculum, and e-books are available at Amazon. Audibles audio book version is under review and will be released very soon! Love my readers! Nealie